In 2020, after several years of working with Best Buddies, Jacklyn Boheler set out to cultivate more natural and visible relationships between people of all abilities.
Instead of community service- or charity-based relationships, Boheler wanted to find less patronizing ways to connect people across ability lines.
She founded the nonprofit B3 Coffee with two other UNC graduate students to use coffee to help bring people together and work towards the destigmatization of disabilities. For the past two years, B3 has been holding pop-up coffee events and catering services across the Chapel Hill community.
B3 — which stands for being, belonging and becoming — held a grand opening for its first permanent kiosk in the lobby of the Chapel Hill Public Library on Saturday, serving about 150 customers throughout the day.
The stand operated quietly in the library for several weeks, and Boheler said the visibility and interactions between B3’s team members and the public have been beneficial already.
“It really facilitates the natural encounters that are so important to our social impact,” she said. “Many people who approach the stand don’t realize that we have a mission that’s focused on disability justice, so they just happen to want a cup of coffee and then there’s an opportunity for interaction and connection.”
The kiosk opened during Disability Pride Month, a celebration of those with disabilities that started in 1990, the year the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.
Boheler said Disability Pride Month and especially those with intellectual or developmental disabilities don’t receive much recognition in society both because of a lack of exposure and a difference in values.
“There’s a lot of biases and negative connotations with disability in our culture because it’s really contrary to all the values our culture perpetuates, like independence and self-sufficiency,” she said. “We have an inherent fear when it comes to disability.”
People with disabilities are represented at all levels of B3, and Boheler said personal interaction and relationship-building between people with and without disabilities is the first step toward ending stigmatization.
“We are uncomfortable with what we lack exposure to,” she said. “That’s true with any kind of diversity, but particularly with disability. If you’ve never interacted with someone with a disability, there’s going to be stigmas.”
Alex Martel, B3’s social media ambassador and a barista at the newly-opened booth, produces regular blogs and training videos for making coffee at B3’s kiosk.
Martel said he has been able to find ways to do the things he enjoys, like cultivating his public speaking skills, through B3.
“During the pandemic, two years ago, I had lost my job and I was doing job research,” Martel said. “I found B3 on social media and I asked if I could join. They let me, and I became their ambassador."
Grey Squirrel Coffee Co. previously operated in the lobby of the Chapel Hill Public Library. When the pandemic hit, and the library building was closed to the public, Grey Squirrel Coffee moved out of the space.
Boheler, a former barista at Grey Squirrel Coffee, reached out to the library about B3 moving into the vacant space, and the library offered the booth for free.
Chapel Hill Public Library Director Susan Brown said the missions of B3 and the library are closely aligned.
“Our mission and the mission of any public library these days is representation, inclusivity, making our libraries places where all aren’t just welcome but all are seen,” Brown said.
Beyond promoting diversity and inclusion, one of B3’s main goals is to be a transitional workplace through its programs.
Boheler said the nonprofit hopes to connect work-ready team members to other local businesses that are receptive to hiring those with disabilities.
B3 will be open in the library on weekends and hopes to expand its hours in the fall.
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