Coffee shop with inspiring mission set to open in YMCA lobby

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Charlottesville has lots of coffee shops, but a new one that's opening soon will offer something much more than coffee and baked goods: It will give jobs to people with disabilities while offering everyone in the community a new way to connect with people they might not ordinarily meet.

It's called Kindness Cafe and Play, and it's being launched by a local mom, Katie Kishore, who's raising two daughters, one of whom has Down Syndrome.

"I want to create a space where people with and without disabilities interact and interact as peers," she said.

Kishore played soccer and basketball at the University of Virginia in the late 1990s, then spent two years playing professional soccer. She subsequently became a teacher and moved back to Charlottesville in 2010.

Kishore and her husband Kris had their first daughter, Mira, in 2012. Two years later, the joy of a second pregnancy was coupled with tragedy when Kris was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

"In April of 2014, we had our second daughter Kiran, who was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome,” Kishore said. “Two weeks later, Kris passed away.”

She says she spent the next few years grieving and focused only on her daughters. But by 2017, her mindset changed.

"I was at a place in life where I was ready for something new, and I felt alive again,” she said.

She learned about a coffee shop started in North Carolina called Bitty and Beau's. It's run by employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Kishore was inspired.

"The more I talked about it, the more I shared that story, the more I realized, maybe I can do this," Kishore said.

An online fundraiser for the nonprofit Kindness Cafe surpassed its original goal in three days, and then Kishore connected with Piedmont Family YMCA CEO Jessica Maslaney, who welcomed the chance to have Kindness Cafe in the Brooks Family YMCA lobby.

"It's perfectly aligned with the Y just in terms of providing opportunities for all, strengthening community, bringing people from all walks of life together," Maslaney said.

Kishore hopes Kindness Cafe will be open within the next few months employing about a dozen adults with disabilities. She says it will be a friendly and joyful space.

"We're also hoping that it's an experience where people leave with a new experience that will influence how they think going forward," she said.

For more information on Kindness Café and Play and the ongoing fundraiser, click on the links in the Related Links box.

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