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Navarre Coffee Shop On A Mission To Provide Jobs To Those With Disabilities

For people with disabilities, finding employment has never been easy — even in the midst of the national workforce crisis. But at Perfect Blend Coffee Company in Navarre, people with special needs are gaining job skills and confidence one order at a time.

Kalli Clement didn’t have to go far to get the idea to open Perfect Blend. In fact, she got the idea at work.

“I have a stepson who is 18 with high-functioning autism and he was given a job opportunity here at Across the Board Therapy to learn job skills and job training,” she said.

Clement, who is a speech therapist at Navarre’s Across the Board, saw the positive changes the job had on her stepson. The lightbulb went off and she decided to open a coffee shop that would offer the same experience.

“I kind of took that model of maybe giving people a chance that maybe couldn’t get a job just everywhere and just learning how we can make those modifications, adjustments and then seeing where they want to go,” she said.

The coffee shop is located next to Across the Board on Navarre Parkway. It has just a few tables and a full menu of lattes, teas, and smoothies. Clement says she sees Perfect Blend as a springboard into other jobs. She’s also partnering with Arc Gateway and Navarre High School that provide job coaches to individuals with special needs.

Perfect Blend
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media

“So not only do they have that support from within our coffee shop they have a job coach that’s right there with them guide them throughout the day,” she said.

Perfect Blend opened its doors just a few weeks ago, but it already has loyal customers, which was a welcome surprise to Clement.

“I never thought that it would be this busy; we’ve had a steady following of people that have really appreciative of what we do and just love the coffee,” said Clement.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 12.6% in 2020, up from 7.9% in 2019. Clement says jobs do more than provide individuals with their own money, they help enrich social lives.

“Any way that we can provide them with some bout of independence — even if it’s just coming here and greeting customers — any way that we can provide them with something to be proud of that they did by themselves, I think that that’s good.”

Proud is exactly how Christopher Brigham describes his new job.

“It’s a confidence boost to have a job and feel like you’re providing and actually contributing. I think that’s the big key: I feel like I’m contributing now and doing something where I feel like I belong.”

Brigham has high-functioning autism and severe anxiety. He says he’s struggled to find work in the past year but has finally found a job where he can feel comfortable. He credits Clement and his coworkers for creating a space for him to learn.

“So, for me to learn a new task, such as making coffee, I need to do things over and over again to get a sense of what to do, and it kind of goes into the motions for me so that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past with other jobs and companies. I’m also very visual so I need visual prompts or cheat sheets because I do forget sometimes especially when it’s crazy and overwhelming,” he said.

Now a few weeks into the job, Brigham says he feels like he’s already improving.

“I’m still learning, there’s still things I definitely need to work on but I’m really enjoying the challenge,” he said.

He says he’d like to be a mentor for new hires over time. And like Clement, he’d like to see more businesses follow the lead of Perfect Blend.

“I would just love to see a connection with those with disabilities and I hope this job, this company, actually kind of opens up other company’s eyes and helps them with hiring and providing accommodations.”

Perfect Blend Coffee Company is located at 7552 Navarre Parkway next to Across The Board Therapy. For more information, find them on Facebook.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.