FedEx Blog

FedEx Blog

‘Different Kind of Jam’ Spreads Opportunity for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

February 1, 2016

diff-jam-animationOn a bright, clear Colorado day, Crysta Bartram has just finished work for the day and is chatting with her dad, Earl. They talk about her day at work, what to have for dinner, and how her saving plan is coming along for her next trip. Crysta is 27 and filled with personality. Her light blue eyes sparkle as she smiles and heads off to the car with her dad.

Crysta has autism. She is also living a happy, productive life. You see, Crysta is a people person, and her job at ‘Different Kind of Jam’ is one of the best things that has happened to her.

She’s found a job environment that praises her skills, understands her autism diagnosis, and helps her thrive socially.

An Idea Creates Opportunities

A few years ago Jack Miller, an Olympic skier, was looking at the next phase of his life. With an entrepreneurial spirit, he had an idea to start a restaurant that served as much food as possible made from scratch. His wife, Athan, was a social worker at the time, and she encouraged Jack to follow through—that his idea would not only draw customers looking for fresh food, but also help provide jobs for adults with developmental disabilities.

Jobs on the prep line at the restaurant were a perfect start for many who had never before had the independence and opportunity that a meaningful job provides.

The Millers opened Steamers Coffeehouse in Arvada, Colorado, where it grew rapidly and expanded several times over. There is a tremendous amount of labor needed to do prep work for restaurant and commercial needs, so a commercial kitchen and bakery was built across the street from the restaurant.

What started as a small operation with three employees who had developmental disabilities, has blossomed into about 150 workers; 90 of them are individuals with disabilities.

Behind the scenes making a Different Kind of Jam

A Jam is Born

With the success of the restaurant, the staff at Steamers wanted to figure out a way to provide more jobs, and their next big idea was jams and jellies. Because jams are extremely labor intensive, making them commercially would provide steady employment for an even larger staff. Thus, ‘A Different Kind of Jam’ was born.

‘A Different Kind of Jam’ works closely with local social work case managers and provides job coaches as part of the everyday work environment. The job coaches also help with task assignments, life skills and kitchen safety skills.

Each jar is individually signed by one of the prep employees. Everything is made in small batches, a half gallon at a time. There are no preservatives or artificial ingredients, but there is certainly a lot of meaning behind each and every jar.

Miller has seen many of the employees with developmental disabilities get promoted to other jobs, or leave for other parts of the city with a new set of meaningful skills.

Because the kitchen location isn’t directly served by bus service, the company has been able to provide a job for Ryan, an individual with developmental disabilities who happens to have a CDL license. Ryan drives a van for employees to and from a nearby transportation center. He’ll also make some pick up trips to employees’ homes, or to places like the library, and he says “I love this because I’m basically driving my friends, and I get to help with their needs.”

Taking Flight With FedEx

Recently a ‘Different Kind of Jam’ landed a new client, and began supplying jam for meals prepped for Memphis-based flight crews of FedEx Express. About 11 gallons a month are used as part of the meals flying all around the world on FedEx jets. At any given moment there may be a FedEx plane above you, carrying a tasty serving of Strawberry Rhubarb or Old Fashioned Raspberry jam from ‘A Different Kind of Jam.’

Since finding the job at ‘Different Kind of Jam,’ Crysta’s passion for her work and social skills have both seen dramatic improvement, says her dad, Earl Bartram. “This was a godsend. We’ve told other community organizations that this is the kind of model that other companies need to do.”

Crysta has proven skills when it comes to the focus and precision required for hand-applying the labels for the jam jars, and writing the freshness dates on that label.

Crysta’s dad smiles and says “This job has given her so much self-confidence. She’s proud of her job and saves her money. She’s planning a trip to Disney World soon.”

  • Some of the staff at A Different Kind of Jam

  • Pilot meal on board FedEx 777, stocked with A Different Kind of Jam

  • Crysta with her dad

  • Fresh jars of strawberry jam

  • Fresh jars of strawberry jam

  • Prep kitchen in Memphis creates delicious pilot meals with A Different Kind of Jam

  • FedEx 777 flight crew with meals including A Different Kind of Jam

  • Each jar is hand-signed by A Different Kind of Jam employee

  • A Different Kind of Jam owner Jack Miller in the prep kitchen.


    Jackie MacKenzie says:

    Love their story. Love their jam. Jack and Athan are wonderful people making a difference in many lives!

    Angela Q says:

    Great Post- Good People/ Great product/ Terrific Place AND FEDEX making me proud !!!

    Lindy says:

    Wonderful article and what an absolutely fantastic restaurant Jack’s and Steamers is! I get to pop in there on my way to work. I hope more companies follow FedEx’s lead.

    Gayle says:

    Is there someway A Different Kind of Jam could be sent to the Hubs or Terminals and the employees could buy it to help promote the product? This would allow the employees to know others across the country know and appreciate their hard work. It sounds delicious since it is made with no preservatives.

    Lydia says:

    What a wonderful and inspiring article. Way to go!!!!

    Susan says:

    Apprecite the initiative taken by Jack and Ethan for their wonderful restaturant and for their thoughts for helping so many people bring joy to their life. I am Happy we at FedEx is a part of this initiative as well!

    Daniel says:

    Love this story! So proud of my company!!!

    David Moeslein says:

    This is a cool project! Somehow, I’d like to be involved.

    Patti Russ says:

    What an inspiring story, Having family members with disabilities; I know first hand how having the responsibility of a job brings so much joy, satisfaction and a different level of community acceptance. Way to go A Different Kind of Jam! For anyone reading this article can order from the website to help support a great cause.

    Claire Curtis says:

    My heart was so happy when I read this article! FedEx once again proves it’s not just about the bottom line; it’s about people. Kudos to the team with the inspiration to get this done! I may order a jar or two for myself!

    Eric says:

    I have a friend with high functioning autism. I wish I could help her get a job like this.

    Tammy says:

    Inspiring and very proud that FedEx supports this effort. Bookmarked the web page and plan to do some shopping!

    Faezah Sidin Amin says:

    A jamfull of love, passion and happiness.Natural sweetness that life brings.

    Mischelle says:

    Although this story is very meaningful, I’m hoping the next article excludes the color of one’s eyes. You see, I grew up in a household with my uncle who had Down Syndrome. And yes I said had, because he is no longer alive. When I read stories like this I want to picture my uncle; who by the way eyes were not blue, and millions of other people with disabilities with different color eyes in this story. My heart is full of joy when I read articles like this. And to the writer thank you for this story.

    Kim McDonough says:

    As a person with an adult child with disabilities at home I can tell you how difficult it is trying to find a job in the community that will understand and accept them. I wish there were more companies like this that would make an effort to hire these wonderful Adults. Such a great article which I am going to share with my Son’s Group.

    JJ says:

    As a parent with an autistic child this article gives me great hope.

    Jennifer says:

    The folks at Steamers and A Different Kind of Jam are so great! We love that they are part of our community!

    Arleigh says:

    What a wonderful story!

    Norry says:

    That is one of the nicest stories I have read. I can’t help but smile at the wonderful people who made this all happen. My heart feels wonderful that FedEx is part of this wonderful project. Look at the beautiful smiles these people have!

    Ed says:

    This is outstanding, plus FedEx is giving back in different way.

    Melissa Speelman says:

    This Awesome that FedEx is giving back to the community. My son has autism and every little tool helps to enhance his abilities to learn.

    David Clarish says:

    As a Step-Dad of a daughter and Step-Grandpa to a Grandson who have Cerebral Palsy, it great to see a company like this who really cares, and wants to see people of all needs succeed in life. Jamie who passed away in 2012, worked for 15 years at an Adult Sheltered workshop in Yakima. And most of the time loved her work and friends there. Joshua our Grandson now 27, has worked at Wal-Mart, and as a Production Assistant on Television series on Fox. So you have to see the best in people and use their talents for the greater good of us all…

    Rob says:

    What a fantastic success story! Congratulations to those who set up the business and the people who make a huge effort to keeping it going. Not forgetting the buyers at FedEx…great to see ethical and supportive purchasing.

    As the Dad of a lad with ASD, I am a firm believer in “different abilities” not “disabilities”….

    These guys prove me right!

    Regina says:

    Great Story good people doing good things and the support from FedEx is great also.

    Carlos Salguero says:

    What a great innitiative!!! So proud that FedEx supports this type of busineses.

    Rose Booker says:

    Not just a beautiful story, but an act of kindness, love and consideration in a diverse society.

    I am grateful and proud to work for FedEx. The added value for including jam from ‘Different Kind of Jam’ into the FedEx Pilots meal is heartfelt.

    George Davis says:

    good post

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