A First Job

BeanZ & Co. helps employees with disabilities make their start in the workplace.

Christopher Feeney (center) with parents Dale and Laura

Christopher Feeney (center) with parents Dale and Laura

Finding a first job is tough for young adults, and especially so for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) where the unemployment and underemployment rate is above 80 percent. Being a first employer for those with and without IDD is an important part of the BeanZ & Co. mission.

“We are hiring individuals to give them employment opportunities and be successful,” says Noelle Alix, co-owner, BeanZ & Co. “At BeanZ & Co., we aim to be a first stop on a career path – a place to learn skills and cultivate a sense of purpose that our employees will carry with them well beyond our doors.”

For Christopher Feeney, who searched for summer employment the year before, an interview and job offer in February 2019 at BeanZ & Co. was his start. And the timing was perfect, as he’s taking a semester off to attend college closer to home in the fall. “Working at BeanZ & Co. is a great experience for me,” says Christopher. “I feel like I do belong. In the mornings, I’m very excited to go to work and am up early to get ready. I’m really proud of myself that I’ve achieved something to help me in the future.”

Christopher’s parents, Dale and Laura, are equally proud of their son who heard about BeanZ & Co. and initiated the application and interview process on his own. “We were ecstatic when he was hired – it wasn’t just a job, but a job in such a supportive environment,” says Dale. “It’s a perfect first job – couldn’t be better really.”

From the start, BeanZ & Co. is eager to set employees up for success. After Christopher was hired, co-owners Kim Morrison and Noelle Alix talked with Laura about his strengths and where he needed support. “It’s important for us to know areas that are strengths as well as areas that are more difficult,” explains Kim. “This awareness helps us set employees up for success in roles that match their abilities from day one.”

Dale and Laura applaud this approach. “Most employers might not take the time to do this,” said Dale. “It’s extraordinary – a great model allowing everyone to thrive with work and training tailored to their strengths and challenges.”

With Christopher’s many strengths, he has a variety of responsibilities, including serving food, busing tables, filling up ice, checking the fridge to see if beverages need to be restocked, and learning the register. “I also went out with my employers on a catering delivery. This was a new experience for me, which I really enjoyed. It gave me the opportunity to develop more communication skills, to represent BeanZ & Co., and encourage customers to come back and potential customers to stop in.”

In just a few short months, Christopher is witnessing his own growth. “In the beginning, it made me nervous to interact with customers, but I have become more confident. Everyone is friendly. I’m getting to know the people I work with better and I feel that my communication skills are improving. Every day I am gaining more independence with doing different jobs around BeanZ & Co. I am still learning – even in the roles I already do. What’s the saying, ‘You learn something new everyday?’ That’s true for me. It’s such a supportive work environment. If you make a mistake or drop something (we call it a “fumble”) it’s not a big deal. Here at BeanZ & Co. it’s something to learn from.”

Dale and Laura have also seen the impact of employment for Christopher. “Working here is bringing out the best in Christopher,” says Dale. “Whenever he is in a supportive environment where he is encouraged he thrives. He gets so excited about work, even the night before his shift – and that excitement hasn’t faded. This job also is revealing hidden strengths and interests we were not aware of.”

Christopher loves to work at BeanZ & Co. so much, he’s requested to work on his birthday. “We offered to take him to a Red Sox game, but Christopher wants to work,” says Laura. “He’d rather work than see the Red Sox on his birthday. That says something.”

To the parents of young adults with disabilities who are guiding first job searches, Dale and Laura encourage them to focus on their child’s strengths. “Be honest about how they work well,” says Laura. “Look for positions that fit their abilities.”

To employers who might be hesitant for one reason or another to hire someone with IDD, Dale and Laura offer encouragement. “An individual with a disability can absolutely contribute to a company,” says Laura. “Once the person is aware of the tasks and requirements of the role, they will be fine. Maybe the learning curve is a little steeper, but once their questions are answered they are able to contribute – and do so well.”

Kim and Noelle wholeheartedly agree. “A key to success for our business and our employees is creating a supportive environment for all,” says Noelle. “As parents, each with a young adult with Down syndrome, Kim and I know that hiring someone with IDD means they are going to need accommodations – and we also know with that support they will succeed.”

“Everything grows in a nurturing environment,” says Dale. “We see how Christopher is blossoming. It’s critical for an employee to feel comfortable to ask any question so they feel supported – and they will thrive. I keep using the word ‘thrive,’ but isn’t that what we want for everyone?” says Dale. “Most employers today don’t have the patience. They want new employees to ‘hit the ground running.’ This is not going to create a broad range of people coming in. BeanZ & Co. is an oasis in the desert in that regard.”

What does Christopher see the future holding for him at BeanZ & Co.? “I’d like to go on more catering jobs and represent BeanZ & Co. in the community. I also have a lot of ideas about advertising and getting even more people to come to BeanZ & Co., which I share with Kim. The motto ‘everyone belongs’ at BeanZ & Co. isn’t just for employees. It’s for everyone, including our customers. Everyone belongs at BeanZ & Co. – and the food is fantastic, so come on in and join us!”

BeanZ & Co. is an inclusive coffee café employing people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities and demonstrates the possibilities in all of us. The coffee café serves breakfast, lunch, hot and cold beverages, and bakery items for take-out or eat in, and also offers catering services. BeanZ & Co. is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 300 West Main Street, Avon, Conn. For more information visit beanzandco.com and friend them on Facebook and Instagram.