Columbia coffee shop provides opportunities for students with au - DatelineCarolina

Columbia coffee shop provides opportunities for students with autism

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Cameron and Nick started working the coffee stand in the library at their school, and from there they were able to work at The Local Buzz just down the road. Cameron and Nick started working the coffee stand in the library at their school, and from there they were able to work at The Local Buzz just down the road.
Stephie Bridgers cooks food for the cafe every single morning so that everything a customer buys is fresh and homemade. Stephie Bridgers cooks food for the cafe every single morning so that everything a customer buys is fresh and homemade.

By Andrea Esselman, Carolina News

"Welcome to the Local Buzz!"

These are the words you will hear when you walk in the doors of the unassuming coffee shop tucked away off of Columbia's Rosewood Drive.

Mondays and Tuesdays are particularly special because Dreher High School students Cameron Jones and Nick Osborne are working behind the counter. Cameron and Nick have autism, but a partnership between their school and the coffee shop provides an opportunity for them to work.

The pair started working at the Local Buzz about a year ago, and their time there has taught them valuable life skills such as navigating the public transportation system, cooking and cleaning, and how to interact with strangers.

"We take the city bus every day when we go to the Buzz, and that is a huge life skill for these boys," says Cameron's and Nick's teacher, Rebecca Smith-Hill. "Both of these boys can ride the city bus by themselves."

Stephie Bridgers opened The Local Buzz just over a year ago when her own two sons with autism needed a place to safely interact with other children, as well as learn how to work.

Since then, the shop has become a safe haven for frazzled moms, children with disabilities, and busy families seeking friendship and support.

"I wanted to have a place where every child can come, and the moms are safe and they can sit on the couch and have a conversation, and then the kids can sit and play and talk and not feel like we're shushing them all the time," says Bridgers.

The Local Buzz wants to focus on helping students with disabilities first, and be a coffee shop second. This profit-second model has made it difficult for the shop to stay afloat in it's first couple years of existence. Bridgers says she is willing to bear the financial burdens as long as she is able to provide a welcoming community space to anyone who needs it.

Bridgers hopes to expand her program to include more students with disabilities, and she is pushing for more business at The Local Buzz so that she can make this hope a reality.

Until then, friends, family, and of course Cameron and Nick will continue to make The Local Buzz a place that feels like home as soon as a customer walks in the door.

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