As part of the Empowerment initiative, Growth Is A Journey is honored to share the story of Cameron’s Coffee And Chocolates in Fairfax, Virginia (US). Cameron’s Coffee And Chocolates offers a variety of products from warm cookies, chocolate-covered toffee and dark chocolate salted caramels to flavorful jams, quiche, and sandwiches. Its offerings also include custom orders and catering for weddings and special events.
What is unique about Cameron’s Coffee And Chocolates is that it is the first business enterprise of the non-profit foundation, Every1 Can Work with a mission to provide employment opportunities for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Alongside her husband, Ellen Graham is the co-founder of Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates, and mother of Cameron. When it had become apparent that Cameron was having development challenges, early on in her childhood, Ellen decided that she would try to find as many doctors as she could to help her daughter. One of the doctors told her that she “should accept the fact that her daughter would function on a cognitive level of a three-year-old for the rest of her life“. Ellen never accepted that, and she worked very hard to help her daughter grow and develop. In her 20s, Cameron found her passion through a culinary arts program at the Davis Career Center, a part of Fairfax County Public Schools’ vocational training. Seeing how much her daughter loved baking and finding very few bakeries that employ people with disabilities in the region, Ellen and her husband decided to build a bakery business that offers work opportunities to Cameron and others like her. They opened Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates officially on October 1, 2013.
Before launching Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates, Ellen and her husband did quite a bit of research to learn about different models of what worked best for employing individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays. As per Ellen, one of the most important pieces of advice was that “no matter what you do, always make sure that you are producing a superior product“. Indeed, Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates makes products that compete in Chocolate Festivals and only uses the best ingredients including Callebaut Belgian chocolate.
Cameron’s Coffee And Chocolates has grown from 5 to over 30 employees over the last few years and has a unique employment model, based on a parallel cooperative work environment where disabled and non-disabled employees work side-by-side. Job coaches are trained in this concept of cooperative parallel work, with the employee, being both a model and a co-worker. In Ellen’s experience, when job coaches are working side by side with employees with cognitive disabilities, the experience for the employees is much more positive and the work product improves.
As per Ellen, one of the most rewarding parts is seeing “the growth in everyone we employ and how all our employees grow in both work and life skills. Statistics are very dim. Over 84% of young adults with cognitive disabilities are unemployed, but they are not unemployable”. It is Ellen’s conviction that even though people may have intellectual disabilities, “they are capable of so much. Work provides meaning and purpose.”
Thank you, Cameron’s Coffee And Chocolates, for staying true to the customer promise to taste “the love in every single bite” while setting an example in the business community by innovating, excelling in the bakery business, and creating purpose.
For more information on Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates story, address and hours of operation, please visit: https://every1canwork.com/
For donations: https://every1canwork.com/donate/
(Photo and article published with Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates’permission)