Reflections from a Site Visit with Leaders from the Rhode Island Self-Employment Project
September 30, 2022
On September 22, I had the pleasure and honor of visiting Red, White, and Brew, a family owned coffee shop connecting the community while serving fresh coffee, baked goods, sweets, and local made products by over 50 entrepreneurs, including 25 small business owners who are people with disabilities. At the forefront of the store is Michael Coyne, the owner of the Red, White, and Brew. He was accompanied by 11 of his peers who are also entrepreneurs that completed Rhode Island’s Self-Employment Project – all ready to share their stories of how they got to employment.
Michael participated in a program offered by the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council (RIDDC), the Self Employment Project. Through funding that the RIDDC secured with various partners they were able to create a curriculum with a series of classes offered to entrepreneurs with disabilities that needed support to establish their own business. The classes provided students and families with the tools, knowledge, and resources needed to launch or enhance business.
During the visit to the coffee shop many business owners shared stories about how they previously struggled to have gainful employment. Various themes derived from the conversation were lack of support, lack of belief that a person with a disability could own their own business, discrimination, and lack of funding/resources, confusion/complex state systems. By far, the most prominent theme was that family advocacy and support were a crucial factor in the person’s ability to receive the proper assistance needed to establish and maintain their business. Another key ingredient was the funding piece in how various funding sources including but not limited to: Vocational Rehabilitation, Developmental Disabilities, plus self-directed supports where people hire their own staff to assist them with their businesses, Labor and Training, and grant money from the Project for business supplies, materials, equipment, and other business start-up costs.
I was able to connect with so many people that achieved their business goals through participating in the RIDDC Self Employment Project. Each person was knowledgeable, and the passion was evident. Many family members reported substantial growth in socialization and overall confidence when business goals were established then achieved.
One of the strongest observations from a policy perspective is that when funding streams are brought together in a creative manner while keeping the person at the forefront of core planning seems to enhance a person’s ability in securing the proper resources to succeed as a business owner. Those key ingredients were present in every person’s success story to employment.
For more information check out the RIDDC’s website and click on the Self Employment pages, www.riddc.org
Photo Description: A group of Rhode Island entrepreneurs, including DETAC’s Project Manager Amy Gonzalez, posing for a photo in Red, White, and Brew Coffee house with gifts and crafts in the background.