For most people, a three-year job as a Starbucks barista would simply serve as material for the “experience” portion of their LinkedIn profile. But for senior Jacklyn Googins, this experience inspired a new opportunity for inclusion on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus – Best Buddies Brews.
“I just noticed the special way that coffee brings people together,” Googins said. “I just saw it as a conversation starter and a conduit for inclusion. I wanted to utilize that in some way.”
Best Buddies Brews, or B³, is a pop-up coffee stand committed to providing marketable skills for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. B³ is operated by UNC Best Buddies’ Disability Awareness Committee, which works to raise awareness surrounding challenges people with disabilities face.
“Best Buddies is an international organization that creates leadership, employment and friendship opportunities for people with disabilities,” Googins said. “Best Buddies Brews is a pop-up coffee stand that is operated by our community members, who are individuals with disabilities. It's really just a platform for individuals with disabilities to showcase and develop marketable skills. It’s also just this positive presence in our community that is promoting inclusivity and celebrating diversity. ”
Googins first had the idea for B³ in July 2018. With opportunities for inclusion on her mind, she reached out to the North Carolina Best Buddies state directors for guidance.
“I was l like, ‘Hey do you have any ideas? Is this even possible? Is this adhering to our policies?’ And they were totally for it,” Googins said. “They connected me to Toby and Cheri Foreman who have recently started up this coffee company, HÆRFEST COFFEE, that employs individuals with disabilities.”
Oddly enough, the Foremans had a similar idea for a pop-up coffee stand in 2009. Toby even designed a logo for B³, but the couple’s initiative never got any further than paper – until they met Googins.
“When she came to us, it was a natural ‘Ah Ha!’ moment, like, ‘Yes! I’ve been wanting to do this. We want to find a way. We would love to sponsor and help and breathe wind into your sails,’’’ Toby Foreman said. “Because we firmly believe that this is something that could change the life of not just someone who is experiencing Best Buddies, but also the ones who are serving the coffee.”
As part of their sponsorship, the Foreman’s created a special blend of HÆRFEST coffee for B³ called “Best Buddies Blend,” which features artwork created by an individual with a disability.
To generate the funding needed to get B³ off the ground, Googins created a GoFundMe page and collected private donations. With roughly $1,500 raised and supplies purchased, Best Buddies Brews kicked off with their first pop-up stand on Sept. 26 at the North Carolina Study Center.
“It was just so special to see these interactions where people were really engaging in meaningful conversation and I could see right in front of me the walls coming down and people learning to just appreciate people for people and to look past labels,” Googins said.
Since then, Best Buddies Brews has held pop-up stands at various events like the Campus Y’s Autism Speaks Silent Auction and Summit College’s Christmas Party.
“(I like going to the pop-ups) because they’re really fun, and I like seeing the college students,” barista Max Van Name said.
Each Best Buddies Brews pop-up is primarily operated by four baristas that sign up to volunteer on a first-come-first-serve basis and are responsible for jobs like cashier, french press master, pour-over master and drip coffee master.
“My part is the drip coffee and the grinder,” Van Name said.
Two to three student job coaches also volunteer at each pop-up event to offer support for the baristas.
“A lot of the baristas are able to do their tasks completely on their own so it's just making sure they prepare the coffee in a timely manner,” job coach Hannah Steen said. “It's just working with each of them in their respective tasks and if they need help kind of assisting them, but totally letting the community volunteers do their jobs and their work.”
This hands-off approach by the job coaches allows baristas the chance to explore their abilities and develop marketable skills like cash handling, measuring and pouring, customer service and more. Steen recalls one her favorite memories at B³ as watching a barista master one of these skills.
“Lucia, she is one of our loyal volunteers, and she has mastered the pour-over times a million and she was teaching Anna, who has mastered the french press, how to do the pour-over," Steen said. "She asked to actually do that event without a job coach and she was promoted to barista trainer where she's going help train the other volunteers. Just her excitement and how proud she was in that moment was awesome because she totally deserved it. She has worked so hard.”
Not only has Best Buddies allowed baristas to grow as individuals, but the pop-up events provide an opportunity for students and community members to recognize the many capabilities of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“We give coffee to other people and we show what people with disabilities can do,” Van Name said. “It makes me happy (when they see what I can do).”
Adela Van Name, Max’s mother, believes this recognition is an important step in bridging the gap between UNC students and surrounding community members with disabilities.
“I think UNC does a great job at the top level for high end research and developing professionals to serve the population of people with disabilities. However, I think there's a huge void between that higher education piece and the campus community,” Adela Van Name said. “We are all part of that community, and we all support that campus as residents here, so for me, that inclusion, that opportunity for inclusion in Max’s age group, is very important to me.”
And soon, this opportunity for inclusion will expand across the country to San Diego State University’s Best Buddies chapter.
“I followed UNC Best Buddies on Facebook and one day I was just scrolling through my feed and I saw they had started this pop-up coffee stand and I was immediately just in love with the idea,” SDSU Best Buddies President Julia Moluf said. “I clicked on the website and reached out to Jacklyn. Since then, she’s just been by my side in starting a similar program here.”
From Chapel Hill to San Diego, Googins and the rest of the B³ team hope to continue empowering individuals with disabilities and providing opportunities for inclusion.
“Everyone deserves to feel that sense of pride and purpose that we all derive through what we do,” Googins said. “That’s what were hoping to create here, is that platform for individuals to really engage in their community in a meaningful way and develop skills and build friendships and network.”