LITTLETON, Colo. — A local coffee shop can provide a lot of things — a caffeine boost, a gathering place, a place to do some work away from the office. One coffee shop in Littleton does all of that, along with giving an opportunity to some who may not receive one elsewhere.
“Coffee has a long history of bringing individuals together,” said Catharina Hughey, executive director of DIRT Coffee Bar. DIRT stands for Divergent Inclusive Representation Transforms.
Hughey is referring to both her customers and her staff, about 80% of whom are neurodivergent.
“Neurodivergent is a term that accompanies individuals with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, all the way to ADHD and OCD and traumatic brain injury,” Hughey said.
“The mission of DIRT coffee is to help employ people with disabilities," barista Kaleena Biggs added. “It's all about diversity and inclusion.”
At the coffee shop, DIRT provides employment and on-the-job training to about 10 staff and a rotating class of interns. The connected nonprofit serves even more.
“They're able to work on transitional skills (and) they feel that they are having meaningful jobs,” Hughey said. “And most importantly, that when they leave here, they're going to find competitive integrated employment in the community that they are looking for.”
The coffee shop and nonprofit are on a mission to train, but also prove, that people who are neurodivergent belong in an integrated workforce.
“We can definitely start to think about some of the misunderstanding that we have around neurodivergent folks and what they're capable of,” she said. “We can start to view them that they can be in any job and that they're capable.”
Giving customers a smile, a quick conversation, and maybe even a lesson with their latte.
DIRT's coffee shop is located in historic downtown Littleton on Rapp Street, with another location on Quebec Street in Park Hill.