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'A different kind of jam': Arvada business spreads support for employees with disabilities
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Crysta has autism. She's also an employee at an Arvada business that values her skills -- a business that is working hard to keep people like Crysta on the job through COVID-19.

"Crysta is a great example of what we do here," says Sarah Smith, director of culinary development at Jack's Bar & Grill and Steamers Coffeehouse.

It's a multi-faceted, family-owned business that serves coffee in the morning, meals through the day and drinks at night.

And, says Smith, about half of its workers have intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and seizure disorders. Many work in its prep kitchen.

"Our mission is to prove that you can run a successful and sustainable business while employing people with disabilities," says Smith, who oversees the business’ initiative to employ special-needs people.

During the pandemic, while Jack's/Steamers is closed for indoor dining, it relies on selling handcrafted jams and jellies -- labeled "A Different Kind of Jam" -- to help generate revenue.

And that's where Crysta's skills come in handy.

Crysta is among many employees of the Arvada business with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Crysta, Smith says, is a worker "benefitting from structure and routine. She likes to know what she's going to do every day when she comes in. She likes things to be done in the same way. And so we immediately looked at what her skills were, and realized that her skill set matches perfectly with labeling those jars of jam."

Colorado Voices

One Jar at a time

3:07
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Since 2007 this family owned business is hand making everything with love.

Crysta is "just one example of what we do with all of our employees, disability or not," Smith says. "We find what people are good at and help them get even better. "

During the pandemic, while Jack's/Steamers is closed for indoor dining, the business relies on selling its handcrafted jams -- labeled "A Different Kind of Jam" -- to help generate revenue.

The Colorado community has taken notice. Recently, Denver Broncos placekicker Brandon McManus' charity donated $5,000 to help the business' employees. The Arvada Chamber of Commerce last year honored Jack’s/Steamers as the city’s Business of the Year, recognizing its efforts on behalf of those with disabilities.

Smith estimates that Jack's/Steamers employed about 60 workers, with and without disabilities, before COVID-19 hit. Now it's trying to keep as many of those employees on the payroll as possible.

As the pandemic gained force, programs to assist many of the business' employees with disabilities "stopped almost overnight, and we are so important to their lives," Smith says.

"Continuing to be able to employ people while the world around them is full of so much unknown is really important to us and to them."

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