Welcome to our newly launched blog - "In the Bubble" for ExtraSpecialTeas "EST."
You've probably noticed how we use bubbles in the graphics in our tea house and images we share on social media. Even our logo began with this bubble image.
The bubbles coming out of the tea cup meant magical possibilities to me. Bubbles are light in being, multi-colored and iridescent. Many kids on the autism spectrum, like our son Jache (which is pronounced "ache" with a "J" in the front), can be mesmerized by the movement of them. Bubbles float, which represents hope for Jache and all the people touched by ExtraSpecialTeas. Here's Jache and Scott in Central Park several years ago.
For 12 years we had lived inside the bubble while doing a home-based program for Jache until the time he began a full-time life skills program at the local public school at the age of 15. It was time to pop out of the bubble where things had been safe and branch out into our community.
It's been almost 7 years since Jache turned 21. That year my husband Scott and I began thinking what was going to be the next step for Jache when he turned 22, which is the age in Massachusetts when public school is no longer an option. Just about any parent of special needs teenagers know that feeling of having to prepare for when your young adult will no longer be able to go to public school.
See the photo featured at the top of this blog post? That was Jache's last day of school. You'll see me, Scott and Jache - and also Alicia Ogaz: she was Jache's paraprofessional at school. Alicia has been with us since Jache was 2, a member of our family, and now the Day Program Director at ExtraSpecialTeas! I call her an "Angel on Earth." We are all blessed to have Alicia in our lives.
After checking resources in our area, I decided I wanted Jache to continue to be in an inclusive environment. Since all of the available options in our wonderful community here in the Southern Berkshires of Massachusetts felt exclusionary, I was going to have to take matters into my own hands and figure out what would be the next step for Jache. I dreamed of a place where my son and others with learning differences could learn, create and grow, plus be a vital part of their community.
The first thing that came to mind was a teahouse. There was no other teahouse at the time in our town of Great Barrington. I loved tea and wanted to create a place where Jache could be part of the community.
It was important to us that the world and our community embrace Jache and people with learning differences. We believed then and now that every differently-abled person:
- has something to offer their community;
- deserves to be part of it; and
- need to know that they have value.
It took us three years to get our newly created nonprofit off the ground and open our unique teahouse and vocational program at 2 Elm Street, Great Barrington, MA. We found a quaint 1920's Victorian that we made our own by adding brightly colored walls, pulling up the carpeting and refinishing the hardwood floors and purchasing vintage furniture from Habitat for Humanity that we painted to create a "boho chic" atmosphere. I wanted our teahouse to be just the opposite of most sterile environments for programs of those with special needs - a place where anyone who entered, left happier.
On World Autism Awareness Day, April 2nd, 2016, we opened our community-based nonprofit teahouse to employ young adults with learning differences, such as Autism and Down syndrome. And we will celebrate our fourth birthday party - we call it our Blue Party for Autism Awareness - on Saturday, April 4th between 11am and 3pm. Stay tuned for more details! https://www.facebook.com/249007501966825/photos/p.1359229630944601/1359229630944601/
Now that I've taken the plunge, in the bubble still resonates but in a much more optimistic and possibility-fueled way. I am so grateful to be able to share exactly what that means to me: boots on the ground, hands in the air with 25+ employees all around me doing the same! My dream has come true, as well as many of the dreams of participants in ExtraSpecialTeas' programs, which you get to hear about here on a monthly basis through our blog and newsletter!
Just as ExtraSpecialTeas is a place of community and inclusivity made possible by many wonderful people, this blog will reflect those experiences by sharing contributions from others, including our participants. We look forward to sharing more about ExtraSpecialTeas and would love to hear from you in the comments section!
Hoping you see the magic and possibilities in your day!
PS. One last thing...We're so excited about our newly launched e-commerce site, we welcome you to view the unique gifts and gluten-free, tea-infused baked goods, all created and packed by the participants in EST's programs.