‘Not about the coffee’: York roastery helps the disabled learn job skills

Roasting coffee beans, talking with customers and learning to be professional is giving 21-year-old Kristofer McLamb an opportunity to make a better life.

McLamb, a former York Comprehensive High School student, is one of several people learning job skills at the York Coffee Roastery, a new coffee shop and roasting business in York, South Carolina.

“It helps me on my people skills,” McLamb said. “Before I came here, I couldn’t talk like this. I would be so nervous and jittery. It would be constant anxiety.”

The business is run by MaxAbilities, formerly the York County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs. It helps people with special needs in York County learn job skills and build their resumes, said Mary Poole, executive director of MaxAbilities.

The shop provides job training for adults with developmental disabilities, autism and head and spinal cord injuries.

“It’s not about the coffee, it’s about the skills,” Poole said. “Our job here is to give people confidence to do a job, build them a resumé and teach them basic job skills.”

Poole said the goal is that people will move on from the shop and apply for jobs. The individuals can apply for jobs using the computers in the shop’s lobby.

Poole said the aim is to catch people with disabilities as they transition out of high school -- at age 20 or 21 -- and teach them work skills.

Poole said they work with York Comprehensive High School to invite students to work at the shop. Students are allowed to attend high school until they are 21.

The shop pays workers a minimum wage for the work they do, which includes roasting, grinding and packing coffee beans and providing customer service, Poole said.

“We start showing them that a paycheck is a nice thing to have,” she said.

McLamb said he hopes to soon apply for a job either at a coffee shop or stocking supplies at a store.

“It gives me a chance to show the board of disabilities that I actually can work and I have potential to work outside of the community,” he said.

Working with people like McLamb is what makes the job enjoyable, said Betsy Winchester, who manages the roastery. Winchester worked in a corporate field for 30 years and once owned her own restaurant.

“I have always wanted to do something that makes a difference,” she said. “Just working with them has been a blessing. It really does your heart good.”

Community members can support the roastery by purchasing coffee or coffee mugs online or stopping in for a beverage, Poole said.

The York Coffee Roastery offers blends such as the Rose City Robust Roast featuring coffee beans from Africa, South America and Asia. The York House Blend is a medium roast with Asian and African beans.

For light roast lovers, the J-10 Breakfast Blend is blended with South American and African coffee beans and has a creamy taste.

Poole said she hopes customers enjoy supporting the cause and a great cup of Joe.

“It’s not something we want pity for; we want to show you that our folks can work and produce a very good cup of coffee,” she said. “This coffee is excellent. It’s a nice smooth swallow and it’s not bitter.”

More information and products can be found at yorkcoffeeroastery.com. The store is located at 132 Blackburn Street in York.

Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082; @amanda_d_harris
Related stories from Rock Hill Herald