Coffee for a Cause: GCSU students support adults with disabilities to serve ‘common ground’

Produced by University Communications

M illions of people use coffee every day to jump start their morning.

Adults with disabilities at the Life Enrichment Center (LEC) in Milledgeville are using it to jump start their careers and futures.

“It’s given our individuals a renewed purpose and sense of pride and acknowledgement. It’s something that they’ve accomplished, and so the world sees them in a different role,” said LEC Executive Director Barbara Coleman.

“To be able to go to college and say I am a barista, I am a coffee truck worker—anything but I’m a person with a disability—this has enabled us to show the world we’re more alike than different,” she said. “If it wasn't for this campus and the commitment of faculty, staff and students—I'd hate to see what the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in this community would look like. Georgia College has truly helped us rewrite the narrative.”

Georgia College has truly helped us rewrite the narrative.
– Barbara Coleman, executive director of the Life Enrichment Center

LEC participants worked hard to get to this milestone. First, they took classes at one of Georgia College & State University’s food safety courses through the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS). Then, with help from students in the university's non-profit leadership course, they formed a partnership with Morning Grind, recently voted Best Coffee Shop in Milledgeville.

Through community sponsors, LEC purchased an air-conditioned coffee truck. Now it's mobile business, "Coffee for a Cause," is open Friday mornings at New City Church at the Mill on North Jefferson Street and will go where needed. They sell a variety of coffees, smoothies, muffins and sweetbreads. Its drip coffee, "Common Ground," is sold by the bag, as well.

Through coffee, the group is bringing people together and promoting tolerance.

They were at Ennis Hall recently, serving a steady crowd of people attending the Governor’s Summit on Language and Childhood Literacy, hosted by the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center.

“The blend that we use, which we call ‘Common Ground’ is our brand, because we believe everybody should be on common ground,” Coleman said. “We are so excited to be on campus where the dream started and let everybody see what happens when you work with college students and different departments—how you have your big idea, and they help make it a reality.”

Senior exercise science major Ariana Bridgett of Ellenwood, Georgia, started volunteering at LEC as a learning service for her practicum class. She went with LEC on an alternative spring break trip last semester to St. Simons Island, and she’ll be doing an internship with the organization this fall.

Senior exercise major Ariana Bridgett helps out at Coffee for a Cause.
Senior exercise major Ariana Bridgett helps out at Coffee for a Cause.
In the coffee truck, Bridgett supports LEC adults by overseeing their orders and helping where needed. They start the morning with good hygiene, washing their hands, and each day they incorporate a new lesson—like how to interact with customers and provide better service.

Working at the truck has given Bridgett a new appreciation for coffee. Iced caramel is her favorite.

The experience is also helping Bridgett prepare for a career in Occupational Therapy (OT). She wants to work with adults who have special needs.

“I really wanted to get my foot into different populations with OT,” Bridgett said. “This has just opened up my eyes to a whole other world. With LEC, there's so many opportunities, and you get to work with so many different people.”

“They give me a huge hug when they're excited to see me,” she said. “They scream when anybody walks into the room. They're so excited that I showed up this morning, even though it's my job. They get really excited that I'm there every single day, even though they know I'm gonna be there the next day too. It's really, really cool, and it puts a big smile on my face every morning.”

GCSU Thrive student Josie Cothram readies a smoothie for a customer.
GCSU Thrive student Josie Cothram readies a smoothie for a customer.
Another Georgia College student working at “Coffee for a Cause” is Josie Cothram of Milledgeville. She’ll join GCSU Thrive this fall. It’s a two-year certificate program that gives adults with disabilities a chance to take amended college courses, get jobs and find a place in the community.

Josie wants to be a veterinary assistant, helping animals. Her job as a barista teaches her job skills, like getting to work on time. She likes serving people and especially enjoys preparing the business best seller: mocha coffee.

Her mother, Lisa Cothram, said Josie didn’t have friends before joining LEC. Working at the coffee truck gives her a sense of belonging and purpose. At night, she helps her mother make goodies, like blueberry pound cake and banana bread, to sell the next day.

“This is a stepping stone to her future and allows her to be part of the community,” Cothram said. “Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought this would be a possibility for her. But it's opened up so many doors and gives her a chance to do something and be active and feel like she's a part of things.”

“To see that happiness in her—I can't explain it,” she said. “There are no words.”

Josie's mother, Lisa Cothram, hands out muffins and sweetbreads recently at Coffee for a Cause.
Josie's mother, Lisa Cothram, hands out muffins and sweetbreads recently at Coffee for a Cause.