Given the dearth of opportunities for people with special needs in Bangkok, Steps with Theera is a brave new social enterprise, offering accredited life skills training for young adults with special needs, while building a positive, supportive community (and serving delicious, healthy food!). The program will be housed in an upcoming coffee shop and vocational training centre in Ekamai Soi 10, Sukhumvit 63. We recently had a chat with the project co-founders Max Simpson and Uang Hotrakitya to learn more.
“We’ve just signed the lease on a great space and are in the midst of fundraising to get the project off the ground,” explain Max. With a professional background in special needs education, Max sought to fill the void in transition to employment for special needs students who have either completed their formal schooling or need an alternative pathway. “Our hope is to blend an entrepreneurial spirit with community building that helps people with special needs with the difficulties they face in accessing education, training, support, and work opportunities.”
Uang, the owner and chef of Theera, an existing café in Soi Kluay Nam Tai (Sukhumvit 42), will oversee the training of the program participants and menu development for Steps. Underpinned by a gluten-free, non-dairy concept, Theera serves up a range of healthy treats, from homemade cakes to hearty breakfast fare, smoothies, coffee and more. “The food at Steps will be along a similar ethos as Theera – gluten/allergen free options with a focus on healthy eating,” says Uang, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu Dusit.
Like Max, Uang is no stranger to special education needs. She offers work experience opportunities to young adults with special needs, both at Theera as well as in the store’s pop-up stall at the Bangkok Farmer’s Market. “We are getting the young people into real world settings, helping them adapt to life beyond school, where there is not as much structure or individualized support, but still within a safe and guided environment,” Max adds.
Steps’ programs will include general workplace, kitchen safety, social, and restaurant-specific skills, such as baking, preparing beverages and operating the coffee machine. There are students already enrolled who will undergo a yearlong program catered to meet each of their individual needs. Trainees will earn achievement accredited qualifications as well as badges with the completion of each training module. Additional services, including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and counselling will be built into the programme.
“Once the training is completed, we will put these skills to practice with Steps as a training ground. We’ll also help trainees find transitional employment opportunities through our network or at the Steps cafe itself,” says Max. “It’s a big endeavour but it’s our ‘passion project’ and something we strongly believe that Bangkok needs.”
To help Steps with Theera’s fundraising efforts, please go to www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/a-coffee-shop-for-young-people-with-special-needs. Also, visit www.stepswiththeera.com for more information on how you can help.