The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) recently launched a new initiative along the lines of what we’ve been discussing here. Sunday and Monday Erin & I attended the 2016 Buddy Walk Conference. #DSWORKS was talked about a lot during the workshops and plenaries.

The group organized to march on Washington with the message that those with Down syndrome add much to the workplace and deserve the opportunity to work in the marketplace. The picture below was one of those sessions where we discussed the need fCfsyGnuWwAE9f_ior advocacy for those with Down syndrome entering the workforce.

I believe Furnace Hills Coffee is a unique business that provides an environment for those with developmental disabilities to shine and make a difference in the lives of many as they roast special coffee. Many of the men and women we met this past weekend with Down syndrome were making that kind of difference in their workplaces.

We were there representing our Buddy Walk Coffee blend. We serve those doing Buddy Walks and raising funds for their local Down syndIMG_3390rome associations. We had a great reception. Here’s Erin serving at our display. She was awesome. Lots of people enjoyed their conversations with her. Erin is a great advocate for our coffee products. She was also drinking as much as she was handing out — well not really — but did drink her fair share.

Find our Buddy Walk Products Below. A portion of every sale goes to support those with Down syndrome:

Buddy Walk Coffees: http://www.furnacehillscoffee.com/charities-online/

Remember our Special Coffee is Roasted by Special People.




A Matter of Leadership — Special Coffee or Special People or Both!

It has been a while since posting on this website. I have decided to start sharing on a regular basis our balance between coffee and people. You see Furnace Hills Coffee was started to provide jobs for people with developmental disabilities. Today we employ three people with developmental disabilities:

  • Erin has Down syndrome
  • Jason has Cerebral Palsy
  • Chris is Autistic

Our challenge to ourselves has been to roast the best coffees available showing the world that these disabilities don’t slow down our employees and in fact we can compete with anyone in the marketplace. I believe we are proving that challenge true! I truly believe that these three individuals roast and package some of the best specialty coffee you can drink in the USA. First let’s talk about what makes these three so special then later this week we’ll talk about why the coffee they roast is so special.

Special People:

  • Erin: She has a passion for roasting special coffee. She calls our roastery her shop. When she can’t go into work she cries and tells me, “I have to work, that’s my job.” How many people do you know cry when they can’t go to work? How many people do you know call where they work their company? If we don’t get at least ten orders overnight she us upset and is concerned that there may be nothing for her to do that day. She loves the coffee named after her, Erin’s Breakfast Blend. In fact she calls it, “My Breakfast Blend.” Do you know of anyone who approaches there work like Erin does?
  • Jason: He loves working at Furnace Hills Coffee. He has a passion to see us succeed. He calls on organizations and companies who may be able to use our coffee in his spare time. He wants to be a part of ever special event we do. He comes to work happy and puts his full energy into all he does. Jason has Cerebral Palsy. Yet that has not stopped him from doing everything in the shop. He has learned work arounds when it comes to the tasks he’s been asked to perform. And he does it with joy! When did you know of an employee who worked on his/her own time to make the company a success?
  • Chris: Do your employees or co-workers include a secret ingredient in their work? Chris does. He includes a pinch of love. Wouldn’t it be great if our co-workers said something like this, “I have the presentation done all it needs now is a pinch of love.” That’s Chris for you. He’s another one who cries when he can’t come to work. Did you ever cry when you couldn’t come to work?

I will measure our special people against your people any day and I do believe we will come out on top.

Check out our story here: Furnace Hills Story

Thursday we’ll discuss the rest of the team and what makes them so special. Don’t worry we’ll get around to this special coffee we roast. The best in the world! It is a matter of leadership!


The Beginning of a Movement:

Furnace Hills Coffee Company has become a movement. So many friends and family & a fair amount of strangers have become a part of our lives. I thought it would be good to share how all this started. The funny thing is any family with a child who is developmentally disabled can do the same thing. In fact we are looking for families to partner with in this grand endeavor of giving our daughter the best life she can live with God’s help.

And So It Begins:

I was on a short-term mission trip in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I had just put the phone back on its pedestal after a twenty-minute conversation with my wife. She was in the Midwest and was ending her day with our daughter. Louise was weeping because of the struggle she sensed in our daughter, Erin, and the growing conviction we needed to bring her home. Erin was no longer the happy person she was when we took her to this place thirteen years ago. It was time that something had to be done. So that evening we both agreed Erin needed to move back home with us.

In talking with the state we live in those who work with the developmentally disabled believed it could be ten years before funding would be available for Erin to find a job. Although we believed Erin sitting home with us was better than where she had been living we felt we should try to start something for her to do. Several ideas went through our minds, but nothing materialized. Erin has Down Syndrome and lives with a number of limitations cognitively  but one thing she enjoys is productive work. So we were casting about for what she could do.

The answer came from an unlikely source. Jim Kales CEO of Aspire — an organization that works with the developmentally disabled from birth to the grave — started following me on twitter announcing a new business they were starting. Aspire is in Chicago, IL. He was announcing the start of a coffee roasting business. I thought, If developmentally disabled people can roast coffee in Chicago, why not in Maryland too! So we bought our first roasters — small home roasters to begin with — and green coffee beans and started roasting coffee in our kitchen. April of 2010 was the start of our roasting endeavors and by September of that year we were a legally created roasting company and had started looking for another place to roast coffee. I figured my wife needed her kitchen, dining room and lower level of her home back.

Erin's Roastery

Erin’s Roastery

So that’s how we started our coffee roasting business & how great disappointment & frustration can turn into hope and freedom for a family. Erin loves roasting coffee. She is very possessive of her job. On Sunday afternoons at some point she will say, “Tomorrow I go to work!”

On Monday I’ll share the half steps that have brought success to our coffee roasting business. For those of you thinking of starting a business or have a relative with developmental disabilities you won’t want to miss it! By the way visit our website and see what kinds of coffee Erin roasts today! http://furnacehillscoffee.com 



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Down Syndrome — Breaking the News!

What kind of emotions go through you when you tell your daughter for the first time she has Down’s! Yet, it came up very naturally. My Mom and I were discussing the difference between someone who is Autistic and someone who has Down’s. Erin piped up and said, “Not me!”

I asked, “What do you mean Erin?”

Her response was, “I don’t have Down Syndrome.”

I said, “Yes you do.”

She said, “No I don’t.”

Once again I stated, “Yes you do.”

At that point she gave in and replied with an “oh”. I then gave her some things that were hard for her to do and things that it was hard for her to share with us — her speech could be better — and she was silent. I could tell it troubled her. Then I told her about some of her good friends in our HUGS ministry at church and what great people they all are. I said that they have Down Syndrome as well. I told her there were things she could do better than any of us. I shared with her how loving and kind she is and all the things she can do well.

It was a profound moment that just happened naturally. Our thirty-six year old daughter now knows she has Down’s.

Have you ever had to break the news like this to someone you love dearly? How did it go?