In 3rd grade when I switched to a new school, the first people I became friends with were girls in the class who had intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). I didn’t realize it at the time, but these girls would grow to be lifetime friends who would impact me like no one else has.
This community is home to some of the kindest, happiest, and most genuine people I’m lucky enough to call my friends -- often after class I check my phone to 12 unread texts, 5 missed facetimes, and 3 missed calls, all from different individuals IDD. However, I recognize that not everyone has the opportunity to interact with this community in the ways that I have been able to, and that’s why I wanted to start 321 Coffee. I want to provide an opportunity for the NC State and Raleigh community to engage with and learn from these amazing individuals, just like I have all my life.
The organization started with four NC State students and an idea. We wanted to incorporate a coffee shop run by adults with IDD within the NC State and Raleigh community. We began hosting pop-up coffee services at various events on campus and around the Raleigh area in order to start developing a presence in the community. So many people rallied behind our mission that we always came out of an event with three new opportunities to pursue.
321 Coffee received so much support that we grew to become temporary and now permanent vendors at the NC State Farmers’ Market. This has been such a great opportunity for us as it has allowed 321 Coffee to have a regular presence in the community, as well as a place for NC State students and Raleigh citizens to learn from adults with IDD. To truly achieve the cultural-shift we’re aiming for, society needs a space where the community can learn from, interact with, and form lasting connections with members of the special needs community. 321 Coffee is that place.
From my perspective, it’s been incredible to watch the relationships develop and form throughout 321 Coffee’s life. I’ve seen customers really open up to the volunteers working when they realize they both love donuts and both have upcoming birthdays. I’ve seen families come who have children with IDD, and they leave inspired by what a future could look like for their kids. I’ve seen other NC State students developing true friendships with the volunteers as they work together for multiple events. One volunteer even told me he thought of one of the NC State students as an older brother.
I’ve found that the mission is one that is personal to so many people, everyone wants to be involved. Students, NC State faculty, and people from all ends of the community are coming together to offer help however they can. This is where our value shines; we truly have the support from the NC State and Raleigh Community. This support has been vital to our success, and I’m so appreciative to everyone who has helped get us to where we are today.
I’m so proud of the impact 321 Coffee has made so far, and I can’t wait to see where it will go.
-- Lindsay Wrege, CEO
Find where we'll be next or visit us at the North Carolina State Farmers' Market!