Every Friday at Seaquam Secondary, a coffee cart run completely by students with special needs makes the rounds.
Since March, the 12 Life Skills program students have been working hard to grow their fledgling business, taking coffee orders at the beginning of the week and then personally delivering the drinks to all the teachers and staff on Friday morning.
Behind the scenes is Shannon Miller, a life skills teacher at Seaquam who came up with the idea after hearing of a similar program in the U.S.
“I was inspired by a life skills teacher in Texas who started up a coffee cart business with her students who have exceptionalities. Those are the same students I work with every day,” Miller said.
She explained that having this cart has brought out the best in her students, many of whom have social anxiety, and has helped them foster relationships throughout the school.
“It’s about them developing social skills and organizing and maintaining a workspace,” she said.
“I have students who say that this coffee cart is their favourite part of school this year because they love it that much.”
Miller said the most impactful part of the experience for her is seeing her students feel included in the wider school community.
“You know that feeling that you get when you know you’ve done something really awesome for the school? That’s what’s been most impactful.”
The coffee cart has been named the Common Grounds Café, a name chosen because, as Miller put it, “even though we all have diversabilities, the common thread is that we all want to belong, and we all want to feel included.”
While speaking with the Reporter, Miller made a point of thanking the Starbucks at 72nd Avenue and Scott Road, especially manager Ashley Crofton, for all their support in getting and keeping the cart going. From sugars and creams to coffee and cups, everything was donated by Crofton and Starbucks.
Miller said she’d like to do the same for another school and donate the supplies needed to someone else who reads about what the kids at Seaquam have accomplished.
“What I would like to do, because Starbucks has been so amazing and donated all of our supplies, is with the money that we’re making I want to offer somebody else in the district, in the province — whoever reads the story and contacts me — we want to provide all the materials that they need to start up their coffee cart. We want to pay it forward.”
She hopes that this story and the idea will eventually spread across the province and country.
“I want this to catch on because of what it’s done for my students. I would be so excited to see what this will do for every student in every one of our programs.”
The hope, she said, is that people would keep paying it forward so it can impact as many students as possible.
“It’s changed all of our lives,” Miller said. “It really is awesome.”
Anyone interested in starting a coffee cart program in their school can contact Shannon Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.