2018-07-01 / Features

Coffee with a Cause

Strawberry Fields’ Good Day Café will serve coffee, baked goods and good vibes when it opens later this month.
Carolyne Meehan

The buzz is building all around town about Good Day Café, and for good reason. Slated to open its doors in late July in Hamilton Plaza, this café is about much more than coffee and treats. An initiative of Strawberry Fields, Good Day Café will be staffed with adults with intellectual disabilities. The café will not only provide much-needed employment opportunities, it will create meaningful experiences for employees and customers alike to enhance understanding of and respect for all members of our community.

But it all begins with a good cup of coffee, a smile and an inviting space. The café will serve Rothrock Coffee, a local coffee company that roasts its beans just down the road on South Atherton Street. And Taproot Kitchen, a neighboring organization that offers culinary training, employment and community for individuals with intellectual disabilities, will provide delicious prepared foods like soups and stratas. Other baked goods will be made in house.

The café has both indoor and outdoor seating at its location south of downtown, with plenty of parking. The inside is bright with big windows and a white subway-tiled menu wall. Reclaimed wood beams bring warmth to the space, along with soft pops of green and orange accent walls.

While the concept of Good Day Café is unique to State College, the idea originated from Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, North Carolina. The Wright family opened the shop in January 2016 and named it for their two youngest children who have Down syndrome. The original café employed 19 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), providing meaningful work for people with IDD and creating a community where everyone benefits. Local chiropractor Dr. Roy Love made several trips to this special spot while his daughter was attending college nearby.

A nurturing, caring environment does more or as much as traditional therapy.
—Cindy Pasquinelli

Love doesn’t even drink coffee — he went for the experience. “The joy in the place was effervescent,” Love says. “You could feel that the staff was happy and benefiting from their work and, as a customer, you feel the same way because you are there supporting.” After his third or fourth visit, Love turned to his wife and said, “We need to do this in State College.”

Love brought the idea to his longtime friend and CEO of Strawberry Fields, Cindy Pasquinelli, who was immediately on board. Strawberry Fields offers a continuum of services to enhance and support the lives of individuals and families with developmental delays, intellectual disabilities and mental illness. While Strawberry Fields serves close to 800 clients, most of this organization’s work goes unseen to the general public. Good Day Café is a way to do visible work in the community in an engaging and meaningful way for both employees and customers.

“We believe in the whole big picture of wellness,” Pasquinelli says. “Having a job makes you feel like you matter. Having a place to go makes you feel like you belong.” The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the percentage of working-age people with disabilities in the labor force is about one-third that of people with no disability. That means only 15 to 17 percent of adults with disabilities are employed.

When Strawberry Fields opened Scraps & Skeins, a creative re-use store that rescues and re-sells sewing, knitting and quilting materials, in 2014 as a fundraiser for the organization, they found it was a great way to offer employment and provide job development for men and women facing mental health challenges. “A nurturing, caring environment does more or as much as traditional therapy,” Pasquinelli says in reference to the supportive sewing and crafting community that came together around Scraps & Skeins. “It seemed logical after this success that we branch into other employment services.”

Last November, Strawberry Fields was awarded a $100,000 grant from Centre Inspires to bring their café concept to life. The grant, awarded by the Centre Foundation, is given to innovative programs that create transformation in the community. “It was like winning the lottery,” Pasquinelli says of receiving the news. It didn’t take long for her phone to start ringing as community members reached out to see how they could help turn the café dream into a reality.

Rich Frank was the first to offer creative branding services and logo design from his team at AccuWeather. The hashtag #coffeewithacause followed shortly thereafter. Paula Cipar of Morpheus Studios spent hours of volunteer time advising on the interior design of the space. George McMurtry from America’s Carpet Outlet donated flooring. The Hamilton Plaza owner, another Rich Franke, has worked with the Strawberry Fields team to make sure everything has gone smoothly, “going above and beyond the call of duty to help out,” Pasquinelli says.

Cindy Pasquinelli, Ellen Campbell, Roy Love and Fran McDermidCindy Pasquinelli, Ellen Campbell, Roy Love and Fran McDermid

And then there’s Love’s continuing contribution. “My job is to tell people that this won’t just be a coffee shop,” he says. “The feeling of Good Day Café is what’s going to bring people to this place.”

The café will display a wall of honor to recognize all those who have helped to make the café a reality, including people who’ve held fundraisers to support the project. Susan and Bruce Heim have hosted Strawberry Fields summer parties that have raised $100,000 for Good Day Café over the last three years. The Heims also donated the funds to pay the first employees at Scraps & Skeins back in 2014.

“The community support has been outrageous and humbling,” says Fran McDermid, the senior management liaison between Strawberry Fields and the café. She means “outrageous” in the very best way. Her face lights up as she talks about how she is most looking forward to seeing the employees “get into the flow” of working together. She is excited to see the staff, a mix of Strawberry Fields clients with disabilities and those hired outside the organization, working alongside one another as a team.

McDermid will be there for the opening, along with café manager Sharyn Angle, to make sure Good Day Café employees get the support and coaching they need to be successful, including adaptive trainings for customer service and cashier operations. Angle and McDermid are prepared to train staff continuously, with the hopes that experience at the café will give those who want to move into other job opportunities the ability to do so.

Rich Frank and his team at AccuWeather designed the logo pro bono.Rich Frank and his team at AccuWeather designed the logo pro bono.

The training is already percolating on the coffee side of things. Rothrock Coffee owner Jamie Bestwick, business partner Ronnie Napolitan and their head of coffee quality control and wholesale training Frank Yeager have been educating the Strawberry Fields team on what makes a great cup of coffee. “We are very excited to be working with them and to be bringing more great coffee to the community,” says Napolitan.

He and Yeager hosted an in-office “cupping,” or coffee tasting, where the Strawberry Fields folks got their noses down close to their freshly poured brews to learn about the subtle notes and aromas of coffee. Rothrock staff also has given advice on the ins and outs of running a café, sharing their own mistakes and what’s worked well for them. And they plan to train the staff on creating signature drinks that consistently deliver on a high standard for quality.

Bestwick and his charity, The Bestwick Foundation, have been longtime supporters of Strawberry Fields and the integral work they do for the community. Bestwick believes that Good Day Café can set a precedent for similar projects, and a more communal mindset, here in State College. “It’s a small town,” he says. “Sometimes you can get so caught up in your day-to-day life that you forget to help out the person next to you.”

The opening of such a café “is a real sign of the future,” he says. He wants Good Day Café to be a place where stigma can melt away, and he sees this as a space where people with disabilities can share their gifts, create meaningful relationships and be part of a community. “At the end of the day, we are all just human beings, you know? Nothing more than that.” •SCM

Good Day Café is located at 286 W. Hamilton Avenue in the Hamilton Shopping Plaza. Follow them on Facebook to keep an eye out for their late July soft opening.

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