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