In 2020, after several years of working with Best Buddies, Jacklyn Boheler set out to cultivate more natural and visible relationships between people of all abilities.
Instead of relationships based on community service or charity, Boheler wanted to find less condescending ways to connect people through ability.
She founded the nonprofit B3 Coffee with two other UNC graduate students to use coffee to help bring people together and work to destigmatize disabilities. For the past two years, B3 has hosted pop-up cafes and food services in the Chapel Hill community.
B3 – which stands for Be, Belong and Become – held a grand opening for its first permanent kiosk in the lobby of the Chapel Hill Public Library on Saturday, serving around 150 patrons throughout the day.
The booth operated quietly in the library for several weeks, and Boheler said the visibility and interactions between B3 team members and the public have already been beneficial.
“It really facilitates the natural encounters that are so important to our social impact,” she said. “A lot of people who approach the booth don’t realize that we have a disability justice mission, so they just happen to want a cup of coffee, and then there’s an opportunity for interaction. and connection.”
The booth opened during Disability Pride Month, a celebration of people with disabilities that began in 1990, the year the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.
Boheler said Disability Pride Month and especially people with intellectual or developmental disabilities don’t get much recognition in society both due to a lack of exposure and a difference in values. .
“There’s a lot of prejudice and negative connotations with disability in our culture because it’s really against all the values that our culture perpetuates, like independence and self-sufficiency,” she said. “We have an inherent fear when it comes to disability.”
People with disabilities are represented at all B3 levels, and Boheler said personal interaction and relationship building between people with and without disabilities is the first step toward ending stigma.
“We are uncomfortable with what we lack exposure to,” she said. “That’s true with any kind of diversity, but especially with disability. If you have never interacted with a disabled person, there will be stigma.
Alex Martel, B3’s social media ambassador and barista at the newly opened kiosk, regularly produces blogs and training videos for making coffee at the B3 kiosk.
Martel said he’s been able to find ways to do the things he loves, like cultivating his public speaking skills, thanks to B3.
“During the pandemic two years ago, I had lost my job and was looking for jobs,” Martel said. “I found B3 on social media and asked if I could join. They let me and I became their ambassador.”
Gray Squirrel Coffee Co. previously operated out of the lobby of the Chapel Hill Public Library. When the pandemic hit and the library building was closed to the public, Gray Squirrel Coffee left the space.
Boheler, a former barista at Gray Squirrel Coffee, contacted the library about moving B3 into the vacant space, and the library offered the booth for free.
Chapel Hill Public Library director Susan Brown said the missions of B3 and the library are closely aligned.
“Our mission and the mission of any public library these days is representation, inclusiveness, making our libraries places where all are not just welcome but all are seen,” Brown said.
Beyond promoting diversity and inclusion, one of B3’s primary goals is to be a transitional workplace through its programs.
Boheler said the nonprofit hopes to connect work-ready team members to other local businesses that are receptive to hiring people with disabilities.
B3 will be open in the library on weekends and hopes to expand its hours in the fall.
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