Opened in 2005, the Columbia Brew was started to help the students in the special education department. The special education chair, Mrs. Broadwater, moved to Kansas City from a school outside of Atlanta six years ago. The school she worked at had a coffee shop that worked directly with all the special education children. She decided to bring the idea to East.
Broadwater got a grant from the East Fund, which was used to renovate and rehabilitate the room that is now the coffee shop. The room was previously used as a dark room for photography classes, but hadn’t been used in a while. The contractors installed plumbing, heating, lighting, and turned the room into a suitable space. Many of the departments at East helped with converting the room into what it is now. The woodshop department made the benches, the sewing classes designed and made the aprons, and the art department painted the ceiling and the murals on the wall.
There were also several contests to decide on the shop name, The Columbia Brew, and the logo, which is the Lancer drinking coffee on the wall. The shop partnered with representatives from local coffee brewing company, The Roasterie. The company gave East a few different types of blends, and let the school test them out to decide on the blend that would best suit East . The one that was chosen is now referred to as Lancer Brew, and can only be found at East.
The shop takes the kids from the special education department and teaches them how to perform all the tasks needed to run The Columbia Brew: stack cups, make coffee, clean, and any other jobs that go into the day to day maintenance. The marketing department has a close relationship with the shop as well. The students from marketing help the special education students perform their jobs and mentor them as they work. DECA and marketing students also sell many of their items through the shop.
The shop is entirely self-sustaining. On an average day it brings in around $175-275, which is used to keep the shop running. All the excess money is then donated to various charities such as Safe Home, The Hope Center, Hospice, and many others. Local beneficiaries such as Ryder Spillman’s family, The Walker family, and various students with financial needs also receive donations from the shop. Money is also used in the special education department to pay for activities and field the trips the department takes.
Broadwater has been acknowledged by many different people for her actions and influence on starting the coffee shop at East. Two local news stations, the Johnson County Sun, and Kansas City Star have all done news stories on her. Over 20 different schools have visited East to see the coffee shop to see if they could institute the idea in their school. Broadwater thinks it’s great that others have taken notice and is happy with how well the shop has functioned.
“It has made all the difference to the special education kids who in the past have been isolated,” Broadwater said. “But now they feel included and recognized. It gives them a chance to interact with other kids and learn skills you can’t learn just in the classroom.”