Teacher aims to open Chesterfield coffee shop to employ those with intellectual, developmental disabilities

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- A special education teacher in Chesterfield County started a GoFundMe in an effort to raise money for a coffee shop where she would hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"We, as humans, all want to make a connection and we don't know any better way to do it than with coffee," Keri Lee, who added she had been thinking of the idea for the past five or six years, said.

"This year I've been talking about it a lot more. It has just, for some reason, taken root in my heart," said Lee. "My son...got tired of hearing him talk about it and he said, 'It's time.'"

The GoFundMe aims to raise $20,000 to help pay for the equipment, securing a storefront, and paying for training. Lee said she has an agreement with a local coffee roaster to help with the training.

She is hoping to secure a storefront in the Midlothian area.

Lee said her desire to start a coffee shop came from her work as a special education teacher over the past decade.

"That really is where I realized that it was a truly underserved community of individuals. They are getting ready to graduate high school. They all have skills to offer and they're struggling when they leave high school to find a place to work or further their education," she said. "My goal is, when I work with these students, to make them as independent as possible and to help them self-advocate. So, like, you ask questions if they don't understand, to speak up if they need something and that is something we really think we can do with a coffee shop."

Lee said her hope is to employ between 10 to 15 people.

"We intend on doing this in a two-fold way. One is providing, like, an internship to students while they're in school. So, they could come during the school day for small amounts of time, be trained in various aspects of the business," explained Lee. "And then we also seek to have employees. Whether they come from high school or whether they're actual adults. We have a training program we'll put them through. But we intend on having them wherever they feel like they fit best. If they do not want to talk to customers, they don't have to. We have people who that would be a strength for."

Lee said the name of the coffee shop will be "Thrive".

"We really feel like we're going to have a place where people with disabilities don't just succeed and just come to work, we really want them to thrive," added Lee.

She said she has applied to make the company a non-profit and already has a board in place ready to take control if that is approved.

She added that best case scenario, the shop will be ready for a soft opening in December and have a hard open in January 2020.

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