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Former special needs teacher hires adults with disabilities at a Highlands Ranch coffee shop

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HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — In the corner of a shopping center in Highlands Ranch, an unassuming coffee shop and boutique is breaking down barriers.

Amy Lunstra is the owner of Festive Cup Coffee and Gift Boutique. A former special needs teacher at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, Lunstra noticed there was not a place in her community where people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) could find a job or contribute to their community outside of school.

“Our mission is to break down those barriers, break down those walls, and give people the opportunity to show that they can give back in a work environment, that they have a place in our community,” Lunstra said.

Lunstra purchased Festive Cup Coffee (50 Springer Drive in Highlands Ranch) two years ago, in July of 2020. She knew the previous owners because she taught their daughter at ThunderRidge. Lunstra began hiring workers with IDD in January of 2021.

Festive Cup Coffee employs workers with IDD

How a Highlands Ranch coffee shop is breaking down barriers

“Oh my gosh, if you let somebody in that has IDD, your world will be forever changed and we want to be able to provide that opportunity for our community — not just our individuals with IDD — but for our general functioning public that they can see and have this amazing gift of building friendships and relationships with people that happen to have an intellectual disability,” Lunstra said.

Lunstra credits other Colorado businesses that have a similar goal to help and employ people with IDD, like DIRT Coffee in Littleton, Pizzability in Englewood and Jack's/Steamers in Arvada. But she is proud to provide such a space in Highlands Ranch.

[Related: 'A different kind of jam': Arvada business spreads support for employees with disabilities]

“I feel like there’s a stigma or there is something in our history that if you have an intellectual or developmental disability, or if you have special needs of some type, then you’re not able to or shouldn't be able to or don’t have the opportunity to be employed and have to have meaningful work in your community,” Lunstra said.

At Festive Cup Coffee, the goal is for people with IDD to work with someone without IDD as a partnership.

“That general functioning person is there to be a support and advocate to help the person they’re supporting be as independent as humanly possible,” Lunstra explained.

“They bring a sense of kindness, work ethic,” Lunstra said of the workers with IDD. “They are engaged and active members in our community and society. They give so much, that I hope that we’re giving them a little bit of sense of belonging, a little bit of sense of family.”

According to a 2017 study from The Arc, a nonprofit that advocates for people with IDD, less than 40% of people with IDD have paid employment and about 6 in 10 of those workers work in food service, landscaping, retail or janitorial services. Moreover, many workers with IDD are underpaid.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows employers to pay “subminimum wages” to workers with IDD, though more than a dozen states, including Colorado, are phasing out the practice, according to Marketplace. In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis signed a bill in June of last year that requires the elimination of subminimum wage employment by July 1, 2025.

At Festive Cup Coffee, however, all workers are paid at least minimum wage ($12.56/hour in Colorado) and all employees receive an equal share of the tips, Lunstra said.

“I hope I’m just returning a little bit of the gift they gave me,” Lunstra concluded.

Brian Willie is the content production manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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