Tiger Perks Brews Up A Unique Opportunity for Students with Special Needs

Last month, Tiger Perks, an exciting high school coffee business run by students with special needs, launched at Chagrin Falls Schools.  Here we catch up with Steve Thompson, Financial Advisor, and Special Care Planner at Skylight Financial Group and Board President of Tiger Prep to find out more.

Tiger Perks Coffee Special NeedsSteve, can you tell us about Tiger Perks and how it came about?

Just over a year ago, I shared with the board of Tiger Prep my vision for a life skills program for high school students with special needs at Chagrin Falls schools.   I had in mind an opportunity that would be fun for the kids and one that went beyond the classroom to help with their social skills and give them some job experience.  A coffee business seemed a perfect idea as it seemed feasible and would allow the students to have the typical kind of job and opportunity that other students have.  We looked at other school programs as an example, started our planning and last month we were excited to launch Tiger Perks thanks to incredible enthusiasm, energy, and collaboration with the school leadership, who were instrumental in making this happen.

How does the student-run business work?

We have between 6 and 10 students who are trained and coached on all aspects of the running a coffee business.  It runs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and at present, they deliver around 50+ coffees, teas, and hot chocolates to staff in the school.  They get to wear a uniform and apron with the school tiger on it, and as soon as the orders come via Google form, they prepare the drinks, put them on a cart and start the delivery.  They are also responsible for collecting money, clean-up, and other aspects of the business.  Other students in the school help them deliver which gives them more opportunity to interact with their peers.

How are the students with special needs responding to the program?

I’ve been up to the school many times to observe, and it’s amazing to watch these kids.  They are having fun and taking great pride in what they are doing.  Although the students may not have known each other that well, they are learning to work as a team.  All the feedback we have received at this point has been extremely positive, and the students are thankful for the opportunity.

One of the high schoolers who was previously very shy and not interacting much, is now delivering coffee and saying his name and “hello” to people.  It may not sound like much, but for him this is massive.  Another sixth grader is so excited that she gets to go the main school and feels important to be given the responsibility to deliver the drinks.  They get to do something that other kids might not have the chance to do in school, and this is something they are extremely proud of.

What are your plans for the program?

It’s early days but the program is growing fast, and we are observing how we can improve and perfect the process.  We don’t want to make too many changes yet as we want to ensure the students are comfortable and interacting well.  One area we are exploring is how to reward the students for their hard work, and we have ideas around fun field trips or excursions to a large coffee shop to let them see behind the scenes.  Also, the students will be able to donate any profits to a charity of their choice, and in this way, they can give back to their community.

Beyond that, our next goal is to double the number of students working in the business to 12-16.  This will put more smiles on more faces!

Thanks, Steve!

 Steve is a special care planner and is a ChSNC®, having made a commitment to serve people with Special Needs and their families.  Visit his bio to learn more