Toronto’s Made By Mavericks Program Provides Barista Training and Employment to Adults with Special Needs

Inspired by the Spanish barista competitions for adults with Down syndrome, Toronto’s Made By Mavericks program is creating a whole new community of coffee professionals

BY ELISE LINSCOTT
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Of course, we all have a favorite cafe, and we likely have a few favorite baristas, as well. These folks understand us, they sense our moods and react accordingly. And they always make our drinks, our “usuals,” perfectly.

Pretty soon, coffee drinkers in Toronto will have the opportunity to forge bonds with a new set of baristas, coffee professionals who will have earned their stripes in the Made by Mavericks program set up by Gerald Fantone to teach coffee and cafe skills to special-needs residents in the area.

The idea has always been an extension of my work for Common Ground Co-operative (CGC), a unique non-profit organization that provides services and support to adults with developmental disabilities who work cooperatively in different social enterprises within Toronto,” says Gerald. “A huge part of my role is to think of new training programs for our clients in order for them to gain meaningful employment. Since one of the social enterprises I support is set-up as a mini snack kiosk that serves brewed coffee, it made sense to embrace coffee making fully with espresso-based drinks. 

CGC had already attempted a similar but scaled down version of the program using fully manual equipment and it had been a rousing success, so it seemed only natural to extend the training further.

The response has been very humbling and encouraging, Gerald said. In the period of four months, we doubled our fundraising target, won a national competition for nonprofit ideas with votes coming in from 21 countries; fostered relationships with a couple local cafes in Toronto; received several press mentions; and got the support of Cafento in Spain. I think based on  that, the public response has been very positive, and I’m just excited to get it running. 

The Made By Mavericks program, which is operated by the Common Grounds Co-operative in Toronto, provides barista training to adults with special needs. It's enjoyed incredibly successful fundraising efforts, and will have its soft launch this summer.
The Made By Mavericks program, which is operated by the Common Grounds Co-operative in Toronto, provides barista training to adults with special needs. It’s enjoyed incredibly successful fundraising efforts, and will have its soft launch this summer.

The program ”which was inspired by a series of Spanish competitions for baristas with Down Syndrome sponsored by Cafento ”was named the ‘the most innovative non-profit project initiated by young Canadians,’ in a contest run by multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The recognition not only came with a great deal of press but also a much needed $5,000 prize.

With the knowledge that similar programs have already worked in Spain, and with the support of Cafento management, Gerald decided to act on his hunch that the greater Toronto special needs community would immediately take to the idea of crafting perfect espresso.

The Made By Mavericks Program was inspired by a series of barista competitions that take place in Spain for adults with Down syndrome, held by Cafento.
The Made By Mavericks Program was inspired by a series of barista competitions that take place in Spain for adults with Down syndrome, held by Cafento.

I received several phone calls from interested participants while we were still fundraising for the seed funding, and many of our internal clients are eager to start their training. There are a plenty of programs available out there, but not many focusing on employment. There is a huge lack of meaningful job opportunities for this often-overlooked community, and I hope to fill some of that void, Gerald said.

The Made By Mavericks program is slated to be fully operational by the summer months with a ‘soft opening’ set  to begin in the next couple weeks. Once the students begin their training, they will be shown the ropes in all aspects of cafe culture before beginning work at the Coffee Shed, which has three locations across Toronto.

The flagship store located downtown within Surrey Place Centre celebrated its 14th year in business this year, and it has grown from a small table set-up to a full-fledged café, with a growing base of customers and clients for caterings. Currently, there are 17 business partners, all with developmental disabilities who share the responsibilities in running the café, Gerald explains.

The Coffee Shed isn’t the only business where those with disabilities can learn new skills and find work: The CGC also has a sister business called Lemon and Allspice cookery, which is a local bakery that supplies goodies to the Coffee Shed while also doing outside catering work.

A successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign provided Made By Mavericks with ample funds for equipment and other pricey cafe supplies.
A successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign provided Made By Mavericks with ample funds for equipment and other pricey cafe supplies.

The Lemon and Allspice Cookery is the first social enterprise developed by CGC in 1998. They’re a wholesale bakery and food catering service which provides most of the goods sold at the Coffee Sheds. It operates similar to the Coffee Shed and the responsibilities are shared amongst several business partners with developmental disabilities with the support of job coaches, Gerald says.

Thanks to the success of both of these enterprises, Gerald and company were able launch the Made By Mavericks program knowing that both financial and emotional support would be available. The financial aspect of the program has been funded primarily through an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign, with a stated goal of $5,000 Canadian dollars, all of which has already been met.

The Indiegogo campaign was our main fundraising (source) to secure seed funding for the initiative. It primarily went towards equipment costs,” says Gerald. “We reached our target a week before the campaign ended. The perks mainly consisted of our products with the addition of an artwork print hand drawn by one of the business partners and a tour of the social enterprises. All the business partners working at the Coffee Shed helped put the packages together putting their own personal touches to make them extra special. 

Though the program has to fully launch, Gerald is confident it will meet a need not only within the special needs community, but also in the Toronto coffee community at large, and he’s already looking at ways to expand the program and fill the employment demands of his clients.

As for Made by Mavericks, I hope that it helps fill the void of meaningful employment for this population while also adding to Toronto’s vibrant coffee culture,” says Gerald. “In the near future, I hope to devise other barista training modules catered to corporate coffee chains with aims to job develop with them and have more job opportunities available for the graduated baristas.”

For more information on Made by Mavericks please visit:  https://www.facebook.com/MadebyMavericks

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