A pop-up coffee shop serviced by individuals with intellectual and developmental disorders, 321 Coffee was started by four Park Scholars in the Class of 2021. According to Lindsay Wrege, CEO, the organization is meant “to provide meaningful volunteer work experience for adults with special needs, as well as a space for the NC State and Raleigh [populace] to interact with the special needs community.”
The name, 321 Coffee, was carefully thought out — with 321 representing Down Syndrome as the 3rd copy of the 21st chromosome. Yet, the inspiration behind it all is Bitty and Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, NC, founded by Amy Gage Wright. When Wright was honored by the Class of 2018 this January, 321 Coffee proudly served the event. It was a big moment for many, being able to meet the muse behind their work.
The pop-up format of the organization allows for them to have limited supplies with the biggest impact through mobility and individual care. The volunteers have two tables for setting up coffee and informational materials, and each volunteer is given a specific role, such as greeting customers, pouring and serving coffee, advertising, and answering questions. These responsibilities reflect each individual’s strengths and help them build their skill set. It also allows for them to lead the event operations with little oversight from the executive team, thereby empowering those within the special needs community.
With many realizing the impact of 321 Coffee on the local community, it is the larger impact on the volunteer’s to especially take note of. Matthew Schwab, one of the volunteers with special needs, says “[This] is a great organization not just for people who love coffee but also for those who truly have disabilities and are struggling through life. I am lucky to have a disability — I have Down Syndrome. The way that I see it, [321 Coffee] is an amazing project. Lindsay saw the true potential of people with disabilities just like me. And she pursued that and wanted to give us opportunities like everyone else has… Usually people like us don’t do anything because we are different. Our physicality is different; our mentality is different. But I love it.”
Other than Wrege, the executive team consists of Elise Romola, COO; Odai Mansour, CFO; and Hannah Cooper, CIO. Each one has a connection to the intellectually and developmentally disabled and bring an extreme amount of passion and effort in advancing 321 Coffee. It is also due to the support found within the Park program that these students felt they were able to carry out such a task. Wrege reflects, “We have had great mentors advising us along the way, including our Park Faculty Scholar, Billy Flowers, as well as distinguished business leaders in the community: Tony Kershaw, Greg Germain, and Michelle Pfeiffer. All these individuals have been so supportive and generous with their time and guidance throughout the process. It means so much to [us] that they not only believe in the idea, but also that they believe in us to make it happen.”