Harold Johnson, 22, does not let anything stop him. He’s studying online to obtain his travel certification to become a travel agent. He’s CEO of his own company the Thoughtful Travelers. And, he does all this while struggling with quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and anxiety.
Susan Johnson and Steve Tarca are Harold’s parents. They said it all started while Harold was still in high school. He was having some behavioral issues so they took him to a therapist. After working with Harold for awhile, the therapist determined that Harold wanted others to see him as a smart and thoughtful person and he loved to travel. His parents helped him start the Thoughtful Travelers, an inclusive travel agency for people with disabilities. Harold has been to Italy, which is documented on his web site in a video.
Johnson and Tarca thought about how few employment opportunities are out there for people with disabilities. Working with two other mothers of special needs children Noelle Alix and Kim Morrison, they teamed up to create the Be Thoughtful Movement—an organization designed to create jobs for people with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities. Morrison owns the New England Pasta Company which created space in its storefront for Beanz Café, their brainchild.
Beanz Café, a coffeeshop located on Avon’s Route 44, calls itself an inclusive café and employs people of all abilities. Written on the wall, when you first walk in, is a quote from Harold. “You will leave better than when you came in.” It’s not just about the coffee or the sandwiches. It’s about inclusion and teamwork. Eighty percent of people with disabilities are under or unemployed.
All the equipment including the cash register and coffee machine are adaptive technology, and the counters are lower to allow for wheelchairs. They have nine special needs employees and eight non-disabled employees. They pay minimum wage, which in Connecticut is $10.10 an hour.
Training is done on hard and soft skills. “The most important thing is the staff doing the training being aware of the person and what they need,” said Johnson.
“It’s being a part of a team, a family,” said Morrison.
First things first, they teach their employees that the customer is always right and smiling is key. “Smiling is part of the uniform,” said Alix. The shirts the employees wear read everyone belongs and be thoughtful.
The first time I went to Beanz I had their delicious spiced hot chocolate served by a pleasant woman with Down Syndrome.
Sometimes when things get stressful on the job, the managers will teach employees to take a step back.
“I took a girl into my office who was getting flustered and together we screamed quietly, then she went back to work,” said Alix.
Alix said, “the beauty of this community is people see the best in people when they interact with this community.” Customers don’t complain anymore if their food comes out late or an order is done wrong.
As Harold said, You’re a better person than when you came in and that’s the magic.
To start an inclusive café like Beanz, please check out their web site at http://bethoughtfulmovement.org. To read Harold’s travel blog or to find out how you too, can travel like him, check out http://thethoughtfultravelers.com.