Caledonia Coffee Shop Helps Students Transition

“I am the brewer,” says a low, throaty voice that sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The “brewer” is working at the The Daily Grind Coffee Shop at Duncan Lake Middle School, but it’s not Schwarzenegger. It’s 19-year-old Nicholas Weidman, having a little fun. He’s a special needs student who works at the coffee shop as part of the Transition program that will teach him skills to work in the real world.

The Caledonia Community Schools program is designed to teach special need students about employment, community living and social skills, said Alissa Hofstee, Caledonia special programs director. “It really serves as a bridge for students from school to individual life,” she said.

The shop where Weidman is working looks like a typical coffee shop with shiny, steel coffee and latte equipment, a line of bottles full of different flavors to add to drinks, cookies for sale, tables and chairs. What’s different is that it’s inside a middle school and run by students like Weidman.

Trevor Lloyd shows the chart system students use to remember tasksThere are transition programs in other districts, including one serving multiple districts in the nothern part of Kent County. R1TS Transistion story

Emily Westfall, the Transition teacher in charge of coordinating life skills for Caledonia students said it’s been great to see students trying new things. One new idea Westfall started in the fall of 2011 was creating a factory-like workshop room at Duncan Lake which actually makes paper. Students also sell cards, tiles, magnets and other products they make there as they learn about work safety and good job habits. The Daily Grind, where quality control, personal hygiene and customer service are taught, is the next stop.

“You’ve got to go with the flow,” says Trevor Lloyd, 21, another student worker. “It’s fun, but it sort of gets crazy in here sometimes.”Kerrianne Suwyn explains what she does at The Daily Grind coffee shop

Mock interviews are stages and students learn to fill out job applications before going to jobs off campus. At the Grand Rapids Goodwill Industries store on the corner of Division and 54th, they help with sorting clothes, and at the David D. Hunting YMCA in Grand Rapids, they assist with mailings, maintenance and greeting members.

“They’re trying to get us ready for real work,” Weidman says.

“The past five years have been very rewarding to watch a program grow the way it has,” said Westfall. “It’s been phenomenal.”

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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