By: Corbin Miller
Have you ever wanted to connect more with the community and learn beneficial life skills? Common Grounds Cafe, located inside the Durango Public Library, incorporates these important skills for students with special needs to help prepare them for opportunities after high school.
Common Grounds Cafe helps high school students, as well as those aged 18 to 21 with disabilities, to gain important work experiences. The cafe is open Monday through Friday, from 10 am to 2 pm.
Devon Parson, the co-founder of Common Grounds Cafe, strives to bring opportunities to students who would normally not be able to have access to important work and life experiences.
“We started Common Grounds Cafe to provide a supportive work experience for students with disabilities, which seems to be lacking in this community. Being able to provide a safe area where students can learn important vocation skills alongside a job coach,” said Parson.
Parson started the cafe in 2014, alongside others who work for the district, after presenting to the Public Library advisory board.
Common Grounds Cafe works to give students who learn and work there many important life skills that they will need post-high school.
“At Common Grounds, we provide not only important vocation skills but independent living skills. We teach them that if they are running late to check in with their job coach or find someone to cover their shift. We’re providing those employment skills, independent living skills, and the opportunity for them to be productive members of the community,” said Parson.
To support students working there and teach them important life and work skills, Corrie McCarthy, Paraprofessional at DHS, helps run the coffee shop and provides important training to the students who help run the cafe.
“It’s incredibly important for our students to be able to come out into the community and be supported in a work environment. Our customers learn a lot about our students as well and really benefit from those interactions. They can see our students having a first job and being very productive and hard working, given the right amount and type of support to learn to work independently,” said McCarthy.
Common Grounds Cafe develops students’ skills while serving locally baked and brewed goods. They serve sandwiches from Bread bakery and brew locally roasted Desert Sun Coffee.
In anticipation of further developing their coffee cart, Common Grounds has started a GoFundMe page to fundraise money to expand the cart itself and upgrade the electrical and plumbing. A link to the GoFundMe page can be found at the end of this article.
“Our plan with our fundraiser is to try to evolve from just a coffee cart to a coffee shop and to continually build upon this business. It slowly started falling into disrepair. We approached the library advisory board and partnered with the director of the library to start our GoFundMe, in order to do a full remodel,” said Parson.
Once they solve the electrical and plumbing issues, the cafe plans on providing different skills with blenders to the students and to create a more fully-run coffee shop.
Many students with special needs from DHS, like So. Dillion Italiano, work at Common Grounds Cafe during the school day as apart of one of their work- experience classes.
“I work at Common Grounds Cafe because it is a very nice opportunity to show me what I can do. I have learned how to help customers and make coffee for them,” said Italiano.
There are currently 20 students working at Common Grounds Cafe who are developing important skills that will open them up to many other work opportunities in the community.
“We’ve had many students move on from here to paid employment in the community, at the Strater, Zia, Starbucks, and other restaurants around Durango,” said Parson.
Students who work at Common Grounds Cafe develop their social skills alongside their work skills. Working in a very supportive environment allows the students to connect easily with others and build good relationships.
“I really enjoy seeing interactions and relationships grow between our students and regular customers and patrons of the library,” said McCarthy.
The location of Common Grounds Cafe benefits those at the library by giving them access to an affordable and nice coffee and lunch location. It’s become a regular lunch location for those who work at the library.
“I like getting to see the customers personalities and talking to them,” said Italiano.
Common Grounds Cafe is a very important part of the lives of many special needs students in the Durango community, as it provides them with many opportunities during and after high school.
“Common Grounds Cafe is one single step towards [our students’] goals of being independent. Every student has different goals. Many of our students have achieved living independently and maintaining some other job on their own,” said McCarthy.