Autism Center Closes Valley Cafes

Published: Thursday, December 28, 2017 - 5:05am
City of Phoenix and Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc.
View of damaged roof at Burton Barr Library in Phoenix.

The monsoon storm that ripped the roof from Phoenix’s Burton Barr Library also changed the course of a Valley nonprofit that helps connect people with autism jobs.

The Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center had recently expanded its job training cafe, Beneficial Beans, to the downtown library.

Faced with at least a year-long closure, the organization decided to shut down the Phoenix location and its original cafe at Scottsdale’s Civic Center Library.

“We saw this as an opportunity to sort of refocus our efforts around employment training by setting up internships with various numbers of employment partners,” said Danny Openden, SARRC’s president and CEO.

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The Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center started the Beneficial Beans cafes in 2012 to combat high rates of unemployment for people with disabilities.

“One of the biggest drivers for them to be able to live independently will be for them to be able to be employed,” Openden said.

The cafe has provided a training ground. People with autism could complete six to 12-week internships where they learned skills like customer service. In addition, profits from the cafes were funneled back into services for adults with autism.

To spread out the cost of running the cafe and bring in more revenue, SARRC expanded to Burton Barr which drew more people and had enough space to start a catering business.

“These cafes are outstanding, but they’re not cheap to run and they are an expense to the organization,” Openden said.

Coupled with the closure of Burton Barr, Openden said the group has seen growth in its employment partnerships with businesses such as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Sprouts.

“We were getting really good as getting people with autism hired without the need for an internship,” Openden said.

SARRC will continue to sell coffee beans under the Beneficial Beans brand and still has job training opportunities available through its garden.

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