SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The first coffee shop in the Sioux Falls area run by people with special needs opened recently, aiming to serve up a lesson in inclusion along with the lattes.
The Yakkity Yak Coffee Shack employs about 20 baristas with diagnoses such as blindness, autism and down syndrome.
The shop, which runs out of the new All American Gymnastics Academy building in southeastern Sioux Falls, not only serves coffee and food to its customers, but is meant to expose people to what inclusion is and to better employ people of all abilities.
“This helps to break the stereotype that people with different abilities can’t do anything they want and that they can’t support themselves,” Yakkity Yak store manager Meredith Molseed told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “If you give people a chance to do what they want, anything is possible.”
Molseed knows the feeling. Her aunt has lifelong learning delays, and while it was normal for her growing up to interact with people with special needs, other children her age were hesitant and grew into adults who didn’t know how to approach someone who was simply different from them.
Yakkity Yak changes that.
“There’s just a stigma that they can’t do anything or can’t do it without help,” Molseed said. “But the amount of independence they have here is unreal. They’re not seen as a person with different abilities. They’re just seen as a person.”
The coffee shop was a dream of Kathy Luke, executive director of Yaks Give Back, a nonprofit focused on increasing opportunities for connection and employment for people with special needs in the Sioux Falls community.
Luke, who used to be a co-owner of the All American Gymnastics before venturing off to start the nonprofit, saw the need in how her friends’ children with special needs weren’t given the same opportunities as her neurotypical children.
After children with special needs graduated from grade school, they lost their connections and friendships they formed over the years. Or when they were employed, they were assigned to jobs that were limiting instead of challenging, she said.
Yakkity Yak is part of the nonprofit’s mission to strengthen those connections and supply those employment opportunities, as well as help fund the nonprofit.
Luke aims to bring a sensory playground and programs to All American Gymnastics with the nonprofit to encourage connection and interaction between children with special needs and neurotypical children. Eventually, she’d like to create scholarships for people with special needs in the Sioux Falls community to start their own projects.
“We made a point going forward that we’ll build this building and provide something to show people that it’s not a disability — these people have abilities, and they can find a way to flourish and a way to feel part of something even when society has taught them otherwise,” Luke said.
Since the coffee shack is stationed inside the gymnastics facility, most of the regulars will likely be parents and children attending classes and events inside the building, Luke said. The shop allows those children to see inclusion in action and exposes them to what should be normal for everyone — treating people with special needs with the independence and respect that a neurotypical person would receive.
Employees at the shop are trusted with every responsibility a neurotypical barista has. The “Brew Crew” members prepare homemade food and whip up smoothies and coffee drinks, including frappuccinos flavors such as red velvet and cookies n’ cream flavor. The shack serves Coffea Roasterie coffee, since the local business helped Luke set up Yakkity Yak and sourced accessible equipment for employees, she said.
“We hear about change and acceptance and inclusion,” Luke said, “but we struggle to find out where that can happen. So we’re going to be that change.”
The shack planned to open earlier in the year, but was set back by the coronavirus pandemic.
The coffee shop is open from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. Molseed said the shack plans to extend hours as well as add events to the shop eventually — all of which will be announced through the business’ Facebook page. Yakkity Yak also accepts donations for the Yaks Give Back nonprofit on its website.
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