New coffee shop employs people with disabilities

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Robert Hedden only cares if one message is on his tombstone.

“When I leave this world, I want it to say, ‘I made a difference,’ on there, and that’s it,” Hedden said. “I just want to know that I helped change people’s lives by hopefully making them better.”

With his wife, Jennifer, Hedden recently opened Stellar Java at 1807 N. Union Blvd.

The main difference between the coffee shop and other java joints spread across Colorado Springs is its staff.

“We will be hiring employees with intellectual and development disabilities to work with our trained manager here,” Robert Hedden said. “This actually has been a dream of mine for a while.”

Several years ago, Hedden saw a movie, “I Am Sam,” about a mentally challenged father.

“That movie just stuck with me,” he said. “It gave me the inspiration to do this.”

Hedden also owns Stellar Care and Services, LLC, which provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities.

The agency employs about 200 and serves roughly 250 patients up and down the Front Range, including Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Pueblo, Alamosa, Cañon City and Grand Junction.

“So I’m not looking at making a lot of money off this coffee shop; it’s more about giving [people with disabilities] a chance to work,” Hedden said. “I make enough money with my other business. This is about helping them grow and giving them a chance to make a little money.”

Adam Van Dinter, the coffee shop’s manager, will attend training courses on how to oversee individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Those [courses] allow him to understand the complexities of their behaviors and when to intervene during certain moments,” Hedden said. “He also will do a class on worker rights, because a lot of our individuals are challenged by individual rights, and that way he can advocate on their behalf for different rights they may have.”

A typical menu of both hot and cold brew coffee beverages is offered at Stellar Java, in addition to three drink specials: the H.U.G., a salted caramel latte; the K.I.S.S., a raspberry chocolate latte; and the C.A.R.E., a double chocolate mocha latte.

“When someone buys a H.U.G., they are ‘helping us grow’,” Hedden said. “The K.I.S.S. is ‘keeping it simply sweet’ and comes with a little Hershey’s chocolate, and then the C.A.R.E. is paying homage to my other business’ name and really the concept of caring about others.”

Stellar Java is located in a kiosk nestled next to a Walmart Neighborhood Market, which used to house Inertia Coffee Company.

“They [Inertia] are still operating at their Eighth Street location,” Hedden said. “We still buy and serve their coffee beans here as well as a few other vendors but we try to keep it all local and support other small businesses.”

Right now, the coffee shop is open from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“[Employees] have to work shorter shifts and not as many so it won’t affect their Medicaid, which most of them are on,” Hedden said. “One of the challenges they run up against by being on Medicaid is that you are pretty much forced into poverty, and if you reach a certain threshold of income, you can lose those benefits.”

The business owner believes it’s important to employ individuals with disabilities because it “allows them to grow and reach higher standards of life.

“I know these guys have dreams,” he said. “You don’t even have to ask them questions and you can see it on their faces.”

Hedden reiterated he isn’t overly concerned with turning a profit or competing with the growing number of coffee shops in the Springs.

“My main focus isn’t really selling coffee or making money; it’s about giving these individuals employment,” he said. “The coffee is just the hook that draws the customers in, and I think when they see the real point of it and the people behind the counter, that’s when the shop will start to sail.”

Additional locations are something Hedden would consider if Stellar Java does become successful, he said, adding it would be “great” to offer more disabled individuals places to work.

“I have a feeling the first year might be a little rough, but I have the funds and we will just have to see how it goes,” he said. “No other coffee shop can beat the social environment we are trying to offer here, and I feel that’s how we can beat out our competitors.”

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