Beaver Shriver with employee Kelly

Beaver Shriver with employee Kelly

Image: Joe Lipstein

From the outside, Rise & Nye’s in downtown Sarasota might look like any other coffee shop and ice cream parlor, but that’s misleading.

“It’s a human rights movement disguised as a coffee and ice cream shop,” says Beaver Shriver, 62, who opened the business last year through his nonprofit, Inclusion Revolution, along with chef Christian Nye.

The shop is staffed and run by 35 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, most commonly people with Down syndrome or autism. Shriver says it’s a population that has been shut out of most employment opportunities because business owners are unaware of their capabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double that of people without disabilities.

As a child, one of Shriver’s best friends had autism, and helping people with disabilities has always been important to him. He’s worked with Special Olympics and Best Buddies, while also helping launch a number of businesses and other projects. He moved to Sarasota from Pittsburgh eight years ago.

Shriver hopes Rise & Nye’s impact goes beyond its own walls. He wants the shop to serve as a model, showing customers that they should be hiring people with disabilities in their workplaces, as well. “We have to break down that fear of difference,” he says, “and help people realize, ‘These are people, just like me.’”

Working with nonprofits like Easterseals Southwest Florida and The Haven, the store offers virtual reality job training to people to get them accustomed to the often chaotic and noisy environment of a coffee shop even before they set foot in Rise & Nye’s. In addition to giving people with disabilities the chance to earn money and learn job skills, the shop helps forge social bonds among people who can often become isolated. When one employee was asked what she liked most about working at the shop, she answered, “I finally have friends.”

“This population has been excluded, it’s been discarded, it’s been institutionalized for years and years,” says Shriver. “It’s high time we give them the opportunity to show their abilities.”

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