Nonprofit coffee truck brews opportunities for Coloradans with special needs


CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Even though 26-year-old Paige Gray was born with special needs, her mother Karen says Paige and her friends are special in so many other ways.

Karen said Paige and others with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) “have the biggest hearts and in society today."

"They’re open minded. They care," Karen said.

Paige is one of several ambassadors for Tall Tales Ranch, a nonprofit that supports people with autism, Down syndrome, and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I feel like it’s important to make new friends because out in the world, you never know who wants to be your friend or who you want to hang out with, and it’s really fun to explore the world out here to find people that you can hang out with,” Paige said.

The main goal of Tall Tales Ranch is to start a community in Lone Tree where people with IDD can live with those who don’t have disabilities. While the community is being built, the organization is helping the ambassadors with on-the-job training by teaching them how to manage and operate a coffee truck that will eventually travel around the Denver metro area.

[Previous coverage: Tall Tales Ranch creates community for people of all abilities]

“It feels so good. This is my first time making coffee,” Paige added with a laugh. “It feels good to be involved and helping out."

“We’ve learned so much about our ambassadors — our friends living with special needs — how capable they are and how much they want to be part of the community,” explained Susan Mooney, one of the founders of Tall Tales Ranch.

“They want to be productive; They want to have jobs. And it’s very difficult to find employment for them in a space that’s willing to make accommodations,” Mooney continued, adding that adults with special needs have unique skills and talents that need to be recognized and utilized.

Studies show that less than 40% of people with IDD have paid employment and many of those workers are underpaid. However, several companies around Colorado employ workers with IDD, like DIRT Coffee in Littleton, Pizzability in Englewood, Jack's/Steamers in Arvada and Festive Cup Coffee in Highlands Ranch.

Mooney and her husband, Pat, started Tall Tales Ranch eight years ago after their son Ross was diagnosed with a genetic condition called adrenoleukodystrophy at the age of 14. Ross received a bone marrow transplant to stop the progression and afterwards his parents wanted to find more ways for Ross to engage with the outside world, make friends, work a job and live as normal of a life as possible. That's how Tall Tales Ranch was born.

To now see it come to fruition and see it change people’s lives makes me so happy," Mooney said. "And I love being able to give them the opportunity … If given the opportunity, they will just shine.”

Sammi Somers is also an ambassador for Tall Tales Ranch. Sommers said the best part of the experience is working with her friends.

“We want to be like the regular community and have jobs, and I’m super happy and can’t wait to get this started," Sommer said. "Let’s rock Tall Tales Ranch!”

Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

Julio Sandoval is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at