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Beneficial Beans serves coffee, snacks, and opportunities for young adults with autism

A new cafe in the Burton Barr Central Library helps adults with autism by providing them with work experience

Beneficial Beans manager Mandy Tomasello interacts with customers on Monday, March 13, 2017. The cafe is located in Burton Barr Central Library in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona.

Beneficial Beans manager Mandy Tomasello interacts with customers on Monday, March 13, 2017. The cafe is located in Burton Barr Central Library in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona.

Coffee shops and libraries are common places for college students to hit the books. Now thanks to a new cafe in Burton Barr Central Library, students can have both while supporting the community. 

On March 6, the Southwest Autism Research, and Resource Center (SARRC) officially opened a second Beneficial Beans cafe inside the Burton Barr Central Library, a cafe dedicated to helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder find jobs.

Beneficial Beans is a social enterprise that originally opened in Scottsdale Civic Library four years ago. SARRC saw the vacant spot inside of the Phoenix Public Library as another great opportunity to bring in more revenue and create more jobs.

This cafe serves a variety of coffee, pastries, salads, sandwiches and opportunities for adults with autism to gain work experience.

“We try to accomplish three things within this cafe,” said Kate Thoene, social enterprise director at Beneficial Beans. 

"To provide internships for adults with autism, so they can gain skills that can be transferred into any industry in the community, generate revenue to support our program, and to gain awareness for autism and SARRC.”

Each shift, there is at least one person with autism working behind the counter. Thoene said that this is meant to help them acquire the skills needed to work in a competitive community based employment.

“Every purchase gives adults with autism an opportunity to interact and learn something with every customer,” Thoene said.

She said that working alongside baristas gives them a chance to learn and make mistakes before they go out into the real world and find a real paying job.

Gabe Caceres, a nursing senior at the Downtown Phoenix campus, believes that having people with autism work behind the counter of the cafe is very beneficial.

“It makes them get out there and work, and I think that is very cool,” Caceres said.

Maddison Fitzsimmons, a public service and public policy sophomore, said she believes it is a chance for people to view people with autism differently.

“We need to look at them just like regular people,” Fitzsimmons said.

According to SARRC, about ninety percent of people with autism are currently unemployed.

“We are working to change that statistic by giving them the opportunity to be an active member in the community and be independent,” said Sarah Sanchez, social enterprise coordinator at Beneficial Beans.

Sanchez added that about seventy percent of their graduates have already found themselves a job because of the skills they gained interning at Beneficial Beans. 

Thoene said that the best way for people to support their cause is to simply come in and grab a coffee and lunch.

“Every customer means a lot to us,” said Thoene. 

Reach the reporter at or follow @emily_ditomasso on Twitter.

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