Mahomet Seymour Junior High students are brewing up business and brimming with pride thanks to a partnership with a local coffee roaster.
Students in a life skills special education classroom, along with their teachers and peer mentors, are working together to offer a “Coffee Cart” twice a week, delivering freshly brewed coffee and tea from Columbia Street Roastery to junior high teachers and staff.
Ashleigh Smith, a special education aide who was the driving force behind the partnership, said the new endeavor is a fun opportunity that’s also extremely beneficial to students.
“The kids really enjoy passing the coffee out,” Smith said. “They’re also learning a tremendous amount of life skills associated with running a business.”
Columbia Street Roastery in Champaign is donating all of the supplies free of charge, including coffee, tea, hot chocolate, stir sticks, sweeteners, air pots and a commercial brewer.
“They have been incredibly generous to our classroom,” Smith said.
Mark Herriott, Columbia Street Roastery’s operating manager, said they wanted to partner with the Mahomet classroom for the potential growth and learning experience it offers to students.
Drinks are $1 each, with proceeds going back to the classroom’s fund; however, more important than the financial gains are the life lessons the students are learning.
Alice Smith, a special education teacher at MSJH, said the project is creating a practical, real-life environment that’s valuable experience for students with disabilities.
“Students with disabilities share the same goals as their non-disabled peers; jobs, community involvement, and living independently,” she said. “Developing skills that are transferable to the future workplace will assist students with disabilities in becoming more independent.”
Thanks to the Coffee Cart project, students are answering the phone, preparing totals on checks, keeping inventory, learning about customer service, and practicing how to keep a work area clean. In addition, they are implementing occupational and physical therapy skills, language development, and increasing their social interactions.
Alice Smith said students will work further to expand their skills by determining change, discussing sales strategies, marketing ideas, and how to expand the coffee cart to include social events within the school district, as well as how to use these abilities to find future employment.
Jack McPherson, a seventh grade student and Coffee Cart worker, said “it’s fun to get to help make the coffee for the teachers.”
“He enjoys being able to help out,” his mother, Kelly McPherson, said.
Columbia Street Roastery, a three-generational family-owned business in Champaign-Urbana since 1951, is owned by the Herriott family (they also own Herriott’s Rentals in Champaign.) They opened the roastery on Columbia Street in Champaign in 1998, which is where they roast all of their coffee and tea, and also have a location in Chicago.
Being actively involved in the communities they serve is a huge part of the Herriott’s mission statement.
Columbia Street Roastery in Chicago, which is managed by Mark Herriott’s son, John, has partnered with Misericordia, a home for adults with developmental disabilities.
Mark Herriott said they deliver between 900 to 1,500 pounds of coffee from Champaign to Chicago each Monday, where about three dozen residents at Misericordia prepare coffee and tea orders for accounts they serve up north.
Herriott hopes the students will look back at the Coffee Cart experience as something that provided a sense of belonging, responsibility and pride.
Said Herriott: “It would be wonderful if 10 years from now they said, ‘I was a part of the group which started that business.’”