Breaking Grounds Serves Coffee for a Cause

In Mount Holly, a coffee shop that brews workplace skills for developmentally disabled adults.

Employee Lauren grinds some fresh beans.
Employee Lauren grinds some fresh beans.
Photo by Jauhien Sasnou

It’s a rainy Thursday morning at Breaking Grounds, a coffee shop in Mount Holly’s historic Mill Race Village, but the mood inside is bright and lively.

Behind the counter, Kristin rings up a regular customer, a veterinarian whose office is down the street. Lauren grinds coffee beans, sourced from Harvest Coffee Roastery in Medford. They’re just two of more than a dozen developmentally disabled adults who work at the shop, which employs people with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities.

The opening of the nonprofit last December was driven by Medford resident Brandi Fishman, who has a 10-year-old daughter with autism. In 2015, recognizing the lack of employment opportunities for special-needs adults, Fishman founded the Zefer Foundation, a nonprofit that addresses issues of employment, recreation and housing for individuals with developmental disabilities. Breaking Grounds is the foundation’s first enterprise.

Brandi Fishman, founder of the Zefer Foundation, oversees operations.

Brandi Fishman, founder of the Zefer Foundation, oversees operations. Photo by Jauhien Sasnou

“Adults with disabilities are our country’s greatest untapped resources,” says Fishman. “Here, they’re rock stars.”

At first, Breaking Grounds served just drip coffee and pastries. The menu has grown, along with the employees’ skills. The café now offers espresso-based drinks, panini and breakfast sandwiches. It also sells paintings and other works by local disabled artists.

In addition to taking home a paycheck, employees develop social skills and self-confidence through interactions with colleagues and customers. “Everybody needs to have a job and a place in the community,” says Fishman. “This is a place for everybody to be supported and accepted.”

“We really do feel like a family,” says Stephanie, who started as a barista and was recently promoted to shift manager.

Fishman is hoping to replicate the coffee shop’s concept with other businesses, including a doggy day-care center, art gallery and car wash. “We can’t roll out businesses fast enough,” she says. “What we’re doing is so genuine, so pure, and so needed.”

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