Doing Well by Doing Good: “We Opened a Café to Help Our Autistic and Neurodiverse Friends. They Ended Up Helping Us.”

The Kimel Foundation team set out to raise funds to support its mission. What it discovered was a way to break the bias when it comes to skill-based volunteerism and philanthropy.

The Kimel Foundation Cafe
by Shelley Eades
August 15, 2022

In a recent study, it was found that a mere 22% of autistic people of working age are employed, and that people with autism have some of the lowest employment rates among all people with disabilities. Clearly, there is much work to be done to negate the harmful myths and misconceptions about their will and capability to work.

That’s why I believe we should all follow the lead of Wokingham, UK-based Kimel Foundation, the mission of which is to identify, encourage and develop hidden talents, especially amongst autistic and other neurodiverse individuals.

Needing a vehicle to increase funds for the foundation, the nonprofit’s founder and director Nic Lander reached into his history in the hospitality industry and conceptualised a café where proceeds from the sale of coffee and bakery items would help fund the organisation’s programs and activities. What he ended up earning was the respect and gratitude of hundreds of locals who have either visited or worked at the café. He also garnered the support of companies like Zebra that celebrate inclusion and diversity initiatives that enable people’s skills and talents to shine.

The Origin of the Kimel Community Café and Our Relationship with the Kimel Foundation

With a goal of increasing diversity within our workforce here at Zebra and celebrating the specialised skill sets of those with disabilities, we often look both within our own company and outside into our communities for education and resources that ultimately aid in recruitment initiatives. One of the ways we do so is by volunteering our time with nonprofit organisations serving the disabled community, including the Kimel Foundation. 

I first connected with Nic and his team through an introduction from a mutual friend because of my desire to increase my own awareness of neurodiversity. I learned that Nic’s three daughters have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and, as such, he was motivated to create the Kimel Foundation. I also learned about the immense barriers autistic people encounter when searching for employment. Since then, my Zebra colleagues and I have been working with the Kimel Foundation to determine how we could help further its mission.

When I visited Nic in September 2021 to learn more about his mission’s progress, he shared his grand plan to open a café in December that would employ neurodivergent youth so they could learn new skills and grow while raising funds for the greater foundation. He just had one problem: he only had the keys to a storefront at the time. He was lacking everything else it would require to open, much less successfully operate, a café. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I approached my similarly eager colleagues at Zebra to build a team that would assist Nic with securing and implementing a point-of-sale (POS) system for the café at no cost to the nonprofit. It was the least we could do – and something we believed we could actually do on Nic’s very tight timeline.

After Zebra sales engineers scoped the technical infrastructure of the soon-to-be café, we began discussions internally to determine which of our expert channel partners would be best positioned to support this initiative. We ultimately landed on AURES UK and Impact EPoS, both of which enthusiastically obliged to participate.

Fast forward to January 2022, Ben Raftery of Impact EPoS installed and configured the complete POS system provided by Steve Hanrahan of AURES – all services and systems provided free of charge. With additional funds donated by Impact EPoS and a group of Zebra employees who raised funds by running the Brighton Half Marathon, the monthly fees for the application running on the POS were also covered for six months.

While our team and partners were working on the POS, Nic and a group of generous individuals and local businesses worked on electricity, plumbing and furnishings. Come February, the doors of the Kimel Community Café were opened to the public. 

Workers at the Kimel Community Cafe

Waking Up to Smell the Coffee

In addition to increasing the financial stability of the greater Kimel Foundation, the Kimel Café provides tailored training and paid work experience for neurodivergent team members – increasing their independence and serving as a steppingstone for their transition into full-time employment. And if that’s not enough to justify the effort (which it is), the café also utilises a “Pay It Forward” programme to help local charities alleviate food insecurity in Wokingham.

While this entire experience supporting the Kimel Foundation has been enjoyable and rewarding, I must say that what I find the most impactful is how it has helped raise my own awareness and education around neurodiversity. One might say, I’ve “woken up and smelled the coffee.”

All jokes aside, I’d be remiss not to share how important it is that we take advantage of skills-based volunteer opportunities when possible. By leveraging our expertise, networks, resources and do-good spirit, we all can help to improve and promote diversity within our workplaces and communities.

If you’d like to learn more about the café – or visit it when you’re in town – check out the Kimel Foundation website. You’ll also find resources for neurodiverse individuals seeking employment opportunities.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Faiza Gaffar, Cameron Syed, Mattia Pappagallo and Simon Lawrence of Zebra Technologies; Steve Hanrahan and team of AURES UK; and Ben Raftery and team of Impact EPoS for their generosity and collaboration in support of the Kimel Community Café.

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