(July 11, 2018) Catherine Read sits down with Ellen Graham of Every1 Can Work and Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates. Every1 Can Work is a non-profit dedicated to providing permanent employment opportunities for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Over 84% of young adults with cognitive disabilities are unemployed, but not unemployable. Graham and her husband Jim founded Every1 Can Work because they wanted to change the narrative around this issue. If given the proper training and supervision, they believe that these young workers can succeed and fulfill their potential. They understand the importance of dignity and that having a job means more than just a paycheck; it means self-esteem and a purpose in life.
Graham found inspiration in her daughter Cameron’s love for baking so she and her husband Jim launched Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates in October of 2013, the first business enterprise of the Every1 Can Work Foundation. When they opened their doors they had a small storefront in the city of Fairfax and sold hand-dipped chocolates. Five years later, they have grown to employ 20 workers; they have expanded their kitchen to offer a variety of baked goods, coffees and jams, and now even offer catering options. The goal of the Every1 Can Work Foundation is to earn enough money to pay their employees.
The store is run in a cooperative environment, where all of the employees learn to do all of the different jobs. Cross training is good for both the business and its employees, as workers can help one another, step into any task that needs to be done, while also providing variety in the day to day employee schedules. Glass windows look into the kitchen, so customers can see the work being done both there and in the chocolate room. They look to engage with their customers – you can like their Facebook page to and follow them on Twitter (@CameronsChoc) to see their daily specials.
Before opening their doors back in 2013, Ellen and Jim conducted quite a bit of research to learn about different models of what worked best for employing individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (IDD) and Developmental Delays (DD). They visited businesses in Richmond (Daylight Donuts), Charlottesville (Bread Works) and even traveled to Martha’s Vineyard to Chillmark Chocolates. They observed best practices, took away pieces of each business that made them successful, and used that knowledge when founding their own enterprise. The best piece of advice that Ellen received throughout the entire process was that no matter what you do, always make sure that you are producing a superior product, and to not assume that customers will patronize your store if you don’t deliver a superior product and client experience.
In the years since Every1 Can Work and Cameron’s Chocolates were founded, Graham has been an active member of the Workforce Development Board in Fairfax County. She advocates for opportunities for those who have intellectual challenges and for job coaches who are trained in the concept of cooperative parallel work. This type of job coach is trained to do the work side by side with the employee, being both a model and a co-worker. In the past, Ellen’s experience had been that job coaches would verbally direct the employees, but not do the work with them. Her observations are that when job coaches are working side by side with employees, the experience for the employees is much more positive and the work product improves. One of her goals it to work with the Workforce Development Board to create a certification program for job coaches that teaches the cooperative parallel work model.