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New coffee shop creates employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Posted at 5:59 PM, Oct 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-05 18:05:55-04

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — A brand-new coffee shop has opened its doors in Ann Arbor. Serving up premium coffee, Bitty and Beau’s is much like other big brand competitors- but it’s different in the best of ways.

All the baristas there have an intellectual or developmental disability. It’s challenging social norms and helping to close a troubling employment gap — all of it coming just in time for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“They hired me!” said Maria Nazareno.

For Maria Nazareno, no sweeter words.

“My goal is to meet new people,” said Maria Nazareno.

Maria is an employee at Bitty & Beau’s in Ann Arbor.

“I just love making drinks,” said Maria Nazareno.

The franchise allows young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to do what many take for granted.

“I’m so proud of myself, I’m a proud guy,” said employee Nick Lubu.

To hold a job, you might be surprised to learn just 19% of Americans with disabilities are in the workforce, leaving about 80% unemployed.

That statistic felt wrong for Amy and Ben Wright, parents of two kids with Down syndrome. Frustrated by limited opportunities, they became part of the solution launching Bitty and Beau’s in 2016.

“A business with a purpose,” said Lloyd Estep.

Lloyd and Bethany Estep could not wait for the doors to open. Their youngest, Samuel, has Down syndrome, and they’re here today, on his birthday, celebrating what they see as hope.

“I’ve never have seen anything like this, especially with special needs people,” said Ogorek.

Maria Ogorek is similarly hoping to show her brother what’s possible.

“We want him to have a future and for people to see him for what he’s able to do,” said Maria Ogorek who brought her brother to Bitty and Beau’s.

WXYZ’s Ameera David asked Maria’s brother, “Do you think maybe you would want to work at a place like this?”

“Yah,” said Manche Ogorek.

Because no one knows more than a loved one, the kind of impact having a job can have.

“What does it do for her confidence?” asked David.

“Oh my gosh, she’s confident,” said Mary Jane Nazareno.

“After high school, she didn’t go to college, just her extracurriculars,” said Nazareno.

But now, Maria is finding real purpose. So, mom, Mary Jane doesn’t think twice about driving an hour here and back three times a week to make it happen.

“It means a lot to me, very special,” said Maria.