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Building Inclusion in the Raleigh Community

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, parents often ask me about inclusive environments within the community. Parents and kids alike want to interact with others that may have a similar diagnosis, or be able to communicate about challenges faced in their daily lives with someone who gets it. I met with a few inclusive based companies within the Triangle to share their missions with our families. Most of these companies were founded upon the premise of helping the ~70% rate of adults with disabilities who are unemployed. When speaking with the founders, managers and employees, I heard similar stories every time – that their employees diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) were unable to receive jobs they qualify for. Many adults with differing abilities were either bypassed for the job or were given jobs to clean bathrooms and/or wash dishes. Here is a small glimpse into the amazing things these companies are doing to bridge the gap, lift up the IDD community, and increase inclusivity into our everyday lives.

Food Industry
321 Coffee
321 Coffee is a small business coffee shop that employs over 50+ individuals with IDD. They currently have three locations: Downtown Raleigh, Downtown Durham & at the NC State Farmers Market. In addition, 321 Coffee has partnered with NC State University to increase inclusion within their community. At 321, adults with IDD are roasting, packaging, taking orders and making delicious drinks. During my visit to 321 Coffee in Downtown Raleigh, I met with Store Manager, Amanda, and barista/trainer, Jackie. Jackie previously had a difficult time finding a job that focused on her skill sets, until she secured a job with 321 Coffee. Jackie has been with the Raleigh location since its opening. While I was there, Jackie was training new staff members on how to take orders and fix drinks, and on all of the ins and outs of the shop. During my time there, I felt the inclusion and community that 321 cultivates within their mission. In addition to creating fantastic coffee, 321 Coffee hosts different events at different locations, such as a lunch time karaoke and yoga classes. Go on and their social media pages to learn about upcoming events and ways to partner with 321 Coffee for wholesale coffee in the office. My favorite drink is Megan’s Cold Brew, but their Nitro Cold Brew and Latte’s seem to be their best sellers!

Esteamed Coffee: Coffee for a Cause
Esteamed Coffee is a non-profit coffee shop located in Cary, NC that employs individuals with diverse abilities. I had the pleasure of meeting with co-founders, Angie and Tamara to learn a little bit more about Esteamed and their mission statement. Both Angie and Tamara wanted to “create meaningful job opportunities for people with intellectual, developmental, communication and visual impairments in a warm supportive environment.” As soon as you walk into Esteamed you can feel the joy radiating throughout, especially if Ladd is your cashier that day! On my most recent visit Ladd and Marissa were running the show. Ladd was on cash and sold me on the Raspberry Cold Brew, and Marissa was the barista who made my delicious drink. Not only do they offer amazing coffee, they also showcase artwork created by local artists with disabilities. Esteamed also hosts special events, such as Art Night, which is a free event for 12-17 year olds that are differently abled coming up on August 9th. Check out their social media and website ( for more information on upcoming events and volunteer opportunities. I also hope you stop in to try one of their Esteamed Lattes or their summer special, a Raspberry Cold Brew!

Howdy Ice Cream
Howdy Ice Cream is a non-profit ice cream franchise located in Downtown Cary, NC. They also employ adults with diverse abilities, and their mission is to “Inspire all of us to realize the potential in each of us”. When visiting Howdy, you are greeted with a smile and warm, inviting colors throughout. Howdy offers several delicious ice cream flavors, and they also serve milkshakes, sundaes and ice cream tacos. Store manager, Maddie, says their most popular flavor right now has been Peaches and Cinnamon Roll, as all of the ice cream ingredients are fresh. Howdy Ice Cream also provides catering services for weddings, parties or corporate events. Not only is their ice cream great, but they also host fun events too, like game nights or meeting a Disney princess! In addition on August 5th, they are hosting a “Howdy Hoedown” fundraiser where BBQ and ice cream will be included. You can find more details for the event and other Howdy Ice Cream based information at and on their social media pages, as well. Be sure to cool off from these hot summer days with a scoop of Cookies and Cream (my favorite) or Chocolate Velvet Peanut Butter Cup!

Inclusive Center
GiGi’s Playhouse
GiGi’s Playhouse is located next door to Howdy Ice Cream in Downtown Cary, and is a place where individuals with Down syndrome and their families can come together for free events and services. GiGi’s offers educational, therapeutic and career building programs to empower individuals with Down syndrome and other genetic diagnoses. Michelle, President of the Raleigh location, took me on a tour of the facility- and wow, it is beautiful! At GiGi’s individuals of all ages are able to participate in varying events and programs to increase self-esteem and prepare for the workforce. They have a sensory room, individualized rooms to work on speech, math and literacy, a gym to focus on fitness, and a kitchen to increase independence for activities of daily living. GiGi’s also incorporated different types of sinks, soap dispensers, and paper towel dispensers since not one bathroom is alike within the community. In addition, GiGi’s hosts several free events like yoga, social skills groups, kindergarten prep and more. They are partnered with several colleges within the area to host events and form connections to increase inclusivity and acceptance. Go to or follow their social media for more information.

Inclusive Stores
Gabi’s Grounds/ Gabi’s Pals
Gabi’s- Powered by Special Abilities is an organization that employs 40+ people with special abilities in Raleigh, NC. Their mission is to “empower the special abilities community to find their place in the world and enjoy fulfillment in everything they do”. Gabi’s Grounds sells coffee, tea, hot coco, apparel, home goods and more! They have premium coffee blends that are created exclusively for Gabi’s Grounds by Larry’s Coffee. You can find their coffee online or in some local stores. They also have a warehouse at The Loading Dock in Raleigh where you can purchase coffee grounds. In addition to Gabi’s Grounds, Gabi’s Pals works to package, assemble, label and ship services for local companies. Check out their website at to learn more about their story and how you or your company can partner with Gabi’s!

If You Had Wings
If You Had Wings is a local company that supports non-profit businesses through building and creating beautiful birdhouses. Lindsay creates the birdhouses and is “serving the IDD community one birdhouse at a time”. Each month, Lindsay selects a 501(c)3 organization to donate all proceeds to. She prioritizes disability related groups, and so far she has donated over $27,000 to the community. Lindsay preps, assembles, and decorates her original orders; while Connie will paint custom orders. You can see what birdhouses are currently in stock and purchase from the website at

As you can see, the Raleigh community is working to build inclusion and acceptance throughout, and I love making these connections as an SLP. One of our goals at ACT is to increase community involvement and provide support and resources to our families. Follow our social media accounts to learn more about our community partnerships and events at and