Beneficial Beans Cafe

Attending the March 3 grand opening ceremony of the Beneficial Beans Cafe at the Burton Barr Central Library are, from left, Andria Welty, Adriana Aguilar and Mandy Tomasello.

Phoenix has been dubbed “an autism friendly city” by multiple sources and one of the reasons is the work of Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services for those with ASD and those impacted by it.

Recently, SARRC open its second Beneficial Beans Café location inside of Burton Barr Central Library. The cafe, which is part of SARRC’s social enterprise program, is now accessible 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday and serves coffee and a variety of food items to library visitors and employees. However, its most distinct feature is serving as a workplace-training program for young adults with ASD.

“We’re pleased open a second Beneficial Beans Café location inside the Burton Barr Central Library in the heart of downtown Phoenix,” said SARRC President and CEO Daniel Openden, Ph.D., BCBA-D. “The café allows our clinical team to teach essential employment skills to our talented interns – adults with autism – in this social, highly dynamic environment while simultaneously building a more inclusive, supportive community.”

According to national statistics, only 10 percent of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are employed. In part due to its social enterprise programs like Beneficial Beans, more than 70 percent of adults served by SARRC hold competitive jobs in the community.

At Beneficial Beans, also located at the Scottsdale Civic Center, young adults with autism participate in a job training program where they learn basic employment skills in a real business environment.

“People often ask ‘Why a cafe?’ Because arguably one of the biggest challenges adults with ASD face is social interaction; so rather than removing this challenge, we want to teach adults employment skills in one of the most socially challenging and demanding environments,” said Openden.

The new Beneficial Beans location is about triple the size of the first café, with the size of the space allowing the staff to offer catering services, said Kate Thoene, social enterprise director at SARRC.

“This café is a big, bright and beautiful space,” Thoene added. “We offer fresh, made to order sandwiches, salads, soups, toasts, smoothies, a full service espresso bar, 12 varieties of loose leaf tea and all kinds of kid-friendly snacks. We know that Burton Barr is home to many children’s programs so we included a special children’s seating area with tiny tables and chairs so kids can have a space of their very own.”

Given that the café is within its first couple of months of operation (it opened its doors officially on March 6), Thoene said she hopes to see more and more locals give Beneficial Beans a try.

“It’s important for community members to know how much we value them as customers,” she explained. “Because we are a training café where adults with autism learn employment skills, every customer interaction and every order provides an opportunity for them to gain the critical skills they need in order for them to gain competitive, community-based employment.”

Michelle Talsma Everson is a local freelance writer.

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