Our partnerships span the globe but some of the most rewarding are those closest to home.
One of those is LoveALatte, a nonprofit that uses coffee to provide post-high school job training for young adults with special needs. And they do it right in our own back yard, here in Kankakee County.
Co-Directors Jennifer Carroll and Lori Grzelak work as special educators here, and they saw a need for more job training and employment opportunities for their students after they graduated from high school programs.
"Although there are initiatives to assist this special population in our county," Jen says, "Our unique program gives our interns the job skills they will need to find sustainable employment after their time interning with us."
As their partner and one of their suppliers, we sat down with Jen to learn more about what LoveALatte is all about.
Why did you choose coffee as a vehicle for hands-on job training?
Jen: There is no doubt that coffee is a trendy product with young people right now. We felt that the coffee business would both motivate our interns to want to work with us and attract young trendy customers to visit us.
How do you stand out against coffee competitors?
Jen: While anyone can get their coffee from popular chain shops, buying coffee from us assures that you are getting a high quality, locally roasted coffee prepared with love. Our coffee drinks may take us a little longer to prepare, but with each purchase, our customers are supporting our mission at LoveALatte.
Why did you choose to partner with Connect Roasters?
Jen: We appreciate the fact that Connect Roasters also has a mission. We serve the Guatemalan coffee at LoveALatte. We love the fact that Connect gives back a percentage of their sales to Mision El Faro, an organization that runs more than 20 community development and ministry programs in the far eastern part of Guatemala. When our customers buy our coffee, they are not just making a difference not just locally, but globally as well.
Has Connect Roasters been able to help you reach your goals?
Jen: Connect has been with us from the very beginning. While both Lori and I love coffee, we had no idea how to begin in the coffee business. (Connect founder) Caleb not only joined our board of directors, but he also has patiently taught us the pour-over method of coffee brewing, as well as how to brew an amazing cold brew. Connect also helps manage our online sales and distribution for us. We cannot thank them enough for all they have done and continue to do for us.
What obstacles have you had to overcome?
Jen: We feel blessed that in our LoveALatte journey so far, we have had support with every obstacle along the way. Connect Roasters has been there to help us learn how to brew and distribute delicious and high-quality coffee. We have been able to win grants that have allowed us to purchase equipment and a mobile coffee trailer to serve from. Volunteers have stepped up to help run events, upgrade our trailer, and donate supplies and merchandise. The monetary gifts we have received have helped us manage our operation without financial worries.
What unique hurdles has Covid-19 presented to you?
Jen: While we were able to continue at the Kankakee Farmers Market in 2020, almost every other event we had registered to vend at was canceled. This was discouraging as we were not able to provide the same number of experiences for our interns as we did in 2019. We were also not able to add more interns as we had hoped to do.
We tried to use 2020 as time to look ahead and prepare for post-pandemic times. During 2020, we established our website and online sales. We were able to purchase our trailer and break it in during the farmers market. We also used the time to apply for grants and expand our online presence on social media. We are looking forward to getting to the end of this pandemic and getting our interns back to work!
You can find LoveALatte on Facebook here and Instagram here. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.