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Why a cafe owner became CNN's Hero of the Year

December 19, 2017 08:45 IST

Amy Wright's Bitty and Beau's is no ordinary coffee shop.

Bitty and Beau's

Bitty and Beau, the siblings whose birth started it all.
Photograph: @BeausCoffee/Facebook.


2017 The Year That Was

'When you become a parent of a child with special needs, you are instantly thrust into becoming an advocate,' Amy Wright told CNN. 'Trying to make people see the beauty in their lives that we see.'

Wright and her husband had two children with Down's Syndrome and, to them, it was clear that they would have to do things differently -- to not just raise their children into confident adults but also change how the world viewed them.

This led to the birth of Bitty & Beau's in 2016 -- a coffee shop that was named after the two Wright children and would support others who the world viewed differently.

It is what has made Wright CNN's Hero of the Year.


Bitty and Beau's Amy Wright

Amy Wright (left) with an employee during the earlier iteration of her company.
Photograph: Matt Ray via @BeausCoffee/Facebook.


The original Beau's Coffee opened January 2016 in a 500 square foot space in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In the course of her advocacy, Wright had learned that over 80 per cent of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities remained unemployed nationwide. Beau's Coffee created a path for them to become more valued, accepted and included in every community.

The original shop was run by 19 employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In July 2016, Beau's Coffee was renamed Bitty & Beau's Coffee. 'Beau's 12th birthday wish was to have his little sister's name put up in lights, too,' the company web site reveals.

The cafe has since moved to a 5,000 sq/ft building that serves as both a local coffee house and national headquarters.

Bitty & Beau's Coffee currently employs 40 people with IDD.

Bitty and Beau's

Bitty & Beau's Coffee currently employs 40 people with IDD.
Photograph: BeausCoffee/Facebook.


'Bitty & Beau's Coffee creates a culture where diversity is not just appreciated, it's celebrated,' the company says.

'Creating this has given people a way to interact with people with disabilities that (they) never had before,' Wright told CNN. 'This is a safe place where people can test the waters and realise how much more alike we are than different.'

Wright's cause, it is now, clear has touched a chord far beyond Wilmington.

The CNN Hero of the Year is determined by online voters who choose from a pool of 10 finalists. And they chose Wright, who received $100,000 to grow her cause. 

Bitty and Beau's

Amy Wright at the CNN Heroes of the Year ceremony in New York City on December 17.
Photograph: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.


Accepting the honour at a ceremony in New York City, Wright said, 'I am bringing this home to the 40 employees who work at Bitty & Beau's because they are my heroes. And most of all to my two youngest children, Bitty and Beau, who are my inspirations.

To her children, she said, 'I want you to know, because I know you are watching, that I would not change you for the world, but I would change the world for you.'

And about her employees she said what she says about her children: They are not broken.

'What is broken is the lens through which we view people with disabilities,' she said. 

Rediff Get Ahead Bureau