Owner Lorna Heid opened Independent Grounds Café in Kennesaw to advocate for her daughter Emma, who is challenged by a traumatic brain injury.

“We’ve been doing what most special need parents do – dealing with the stages of her life,” says Heid.

Emma is now 17, preparing to graduate from Kennesaw Mountain High School in two years. The idea for Independent Grounds took shape when Heid started thinking about Emma’s life as an adult, and wondered, “How can I set her up so she’ll be independent down the road?” Emma was already participating in the high school’s coffee shop and Heid read an article about a coffee shop with special needs employees.

Many special needs adults are unemployed, and sometimes isolated at home and lonely, Heid says. “Special needs adults have no lack of desire to work, they just lack the opportunities,” she says. “I’m hoping the coffee shop will create a legacy for her, a place to be and a place to grow.”

Independent Grounds employs about a dozen young adults, most with developmental challenges such as autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, and two college students with typical abilities, who’ve been “very enthusiastic and patient, and great mentors,” Heid says.

Customers love having a coffee shop in the neighborhood and friendly faces when they walk in the door.

“It’s amazing to see just how happy (the employees) are to be here everyday,” Heid says. “They take things in stride when we get busy. They’re resilient and want to do more and ask to do more. I hope other people see what a great employee population they are, what good employees they can be.”

–Amanda Miller Allen 

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