Right behind oil, coffee is the second most commonly traded commodity in the world (InvestorGuide). Due to the bottomless 21st century’s addiction of having a cup in one’s hands, the growing hipster movement towards inventiveness and Denver’s massively progressive population of young people, craft coffee is, without a doubt, taking this city by storm.
The caffeinated crowd of metropolitan Denver thus proved to be the perfect platform for Lauren Thome, who graduated from the University of Colorado-Denver with a masters degree in educational psychology in 2010, and Emily Wallace, special education major from Indiana University, to create the Dirt Coffee organization. Its fundamental mission is “to train and employ young adults affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders,” as their website states.
“‘Love’ is an understatement—I find people with autism really, really fascinating. I think they live their life more genuinely: they show you when they’re sad, they show you when they’re happy, they show you when they’re upset, they show you when they’re excited, they have a great sense of humor and they can laugh at themselves. At this job, I am never bored,” said Thome.
Dirt Coffee was founded in 2013 out of an organization called Garden, Inc. that was created six years ago to “cultivate skills and help those on the spectrum grow.” A year after Dirt launched, Lauren Jennings, University of Colorado-Boulder 2015 graduate, started following the coffee truck’s “every move,” as she put it. She eventually got hired as a barista, which ultimately led to her current position as the director of operations. Jennings explains that Dirt Coffee is “really paving the way for neuro-diversities as a whole.”
The partnership of these three young women and their multifaceted desire to create job opportunities for those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, assist in educating the community about these genuine people and serve a hand-crafted cup of coffee has proved to be a huge success throughout Denver.
“I love the fact that people love coffee, and more importantly, that our employees are really proud of what they make,” said Jennings.
Currently, in addition to Thome, Wallace and Jennings, Dirt Coffee has three employees–Owen, Daniel and Matthew. Owen came to Dirt after he was fired from his previous job.
Thome explained that “his employer didn’t understand the support he needed. But, we worked with him and he has grown so much since we met him. He is super good at math, so he loves the cash register. Whenever new employees come along, he is always anxious to help them and show them where everything is.”
Next, Daniel originally came to Garden Inc. in pursuit of independence training. They helped him learn how to ride the light rail and the bus, and began working on basic job skills until he came onto the truck where he currently is, working the pickup window.
“It’s Daniel’s pickup window. He is very proud of it,” commented Thome.
Dirt’s most recent employee, Matthew, came to Dirt from the Joshua School. According to Thome and Jennings, he walked up to the coffee truck with a script on a piece of paper, introducing himself and asking if there might be a place for him to work on the truck. “That day we offered him a job.”
Since its founding, Dirt Coffee has seen several success stories come in and grow out of the truck. One of whom is Robbie, who Thome deems their “biggest success story.” He interned for the company, graduated college, and is now working professionally in film development. Robbie even filmed and produced Dirt Coffee’s campaign video that is paired with the organization’s fundraiser through which they are aiming to raise $50,000 to open up a coffee shop in 2017 somewhere in the Denver metropolitan area to help build futures for those on the spectrum.
Dirt’s plan is to have the shop opened in time for April 2 of 2017: World Autism Awareness Day. Not only will Dirt Coffee continue to allow those on the spectrum to “capably bring genuine value and happiness and service to other people,” as Thome explained, but it will continue to possess a Triple Bottom Line business plan: “coffee, planet and people.” Dirt will compost coffee wastes, make their own syrups and ultimately be fully committed to running a socially-conscious business. Dirt Coffee is the whole package.
The Dirt Coffee truck makes appearances based on requests from the community all around Denver throughout each week according to a calendar they have posted online. In addition to their presence at the Joshua School every Friday from 12 – 2 p.m., upcoming locations include the Interagency Transition Fair & Job Fair on April 21 from 4 – 7 p.m. and the Autism Resource Fair on May 15 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. They offer a full espresso bar, using Kaladi Coffee and Coda Coffee, all of which is “brewed on the spectrum.”