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Where Community Works
COCO Cafe is a project of Cedar opportunities Co-operative. Our mission is to operate a successful social enterprise that provides employment, training, and socialization opportunities for people with developmental disabilities within their community.
Coco Cafe is a project of Cedar opportunities Cooperative. COCO was started by a group of families who live in the Cedar/ Yellowpoint/ Cassidy area, all of whom have a family member with a developmental disability. This is a rural area, there is limited public transportation and many areas which are isolated. School students with developmental disabilities can take school buses and are integrated into the local elementary and high schools. However, once students have finished school, there are no services or programs available in the area. As a result, families with an adult family member with a developmental disability are faced with the choice of either moving out of the community, seeing their family member become increasingly isolated, or committing to driving their family member out of the community to programs and services in either Ladysmith or Nanaimo.
In 2004 the families started meeting as a group for picnics and began talking about their difficulties, their dreams for their children and their children’s abilities and interests. They found that opportunities for employment and for making friends were the greatest needs for all family members.
Over the course of four years, they became increasingly more organized and began to look at possibilities that would fit for COCO. They invited several speakers to their group and looked at many options (including forming a business partnership, extending micro-boards, and forming a community service society). After extensive research and consulting with experts in several fields, the group decided to form a co-op with the intention of starting a business. After talking to community members, local business people and local government representatives, a decision was made that a coffee shop would fit all of the criteria and would fill a need in the community.
They wanted a business that would provide:
Many opportunities for socialization
Visibility in the community (rather than a home based business)
Opportunities for job carving (a business that allows for a number of different jobs which can fit with people's interests and abilities)
A business that fills a niche in the community and is profitable (self-sustaining)
Provides a full breakfast and lunch menu, specialty beverages, frozen retail meals, and home-style baking within the cafe. COCO Cafe has become a local meeting place for the members of the community. The cafe makes almost everything that serves from scratch, subsequently, the COCO staff also learns life skills which will be helpful in finding meaningful employment in the future and can also be used in their everyday lives. As time goes by and their skills advance we also see their confidence levels advance ultimately resulting in a happier and healthier lifestyle. When excess revenues are generated by operations they are used to raise the social impact by increasing the number of supported employment hours.
COCO Supported Employment Program
COCO integrates individuals with developmental disabilities into a commercial restaurant environment. The cafe operations are designed to provide hands on employment training. All aspects of the cafe have provided valuable work experience. The support system set up in the cafe includes: a Lead Support Worker who can offer guidance to other team members and maintain record keeping and evaluations, resident support workers with specialized areas of expertise (cooking, barista, baking, book keeping, catering). We are proud to say that we have had people with disabilities gain experience in every department of operations.
COCO Catering services specializes in weddings, corporate events, business, and social luncheons, cocktail parties, barbecues, and family gatherings! Our goal is to provide our customers and their guests with outstanding food and service, while promoting employment for people with developmental disabilities in various highly visible community settings. Our catering service has become highly sought after in the Greater Nanaimo and Mid-Vancouver Island Region.
COCO Kitchen (Commercial Retail)
COCO Kitchen creates wholesome frozen take-out meals that are sold at the cafe, to local schools through a fundraising program, and to other restaurants with limited cooking facilities. COCO’s wholesome meals have become increasingly popular with cafe clientele. Specializing in hand-folded pot pies, lasagna, enchiladas, hearty soups, and shepherd’s pie. The retail prep is integrated with lulls in the catering schedule to help maintain steady operations a labor work loads.
- A Unique Business – it has typical employees and employees with developmental disabilities. Employees with developmental disabilities are supported by trained support workers who also work in the cafe and on the catering team
- A Community Hub – a local, comfortable and appealing place to meet in Cedar
- Successful - it fills a need in the community - we see daily community support
In 2016 COCO also implemented a Three Month Supported Work Experience Program. This program was created to help alleviate the overwhelming need for employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. We now offer training in a supported environment that develops transferable employment skills, resume building, and interview training that promotes to future employment opportunities outside of COCO.