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The Local Buzz12.01.2016

When MSW alumna Becca Smith-Hill stepped into a new neighborhood coffee shop, she only intended to try the coffee and gather information for her personal blog. But the resulting collaboration was even richer than the locally-roasted coffee. Smith-Hill is an Intellectual Disability teacher at Dreher High School in Columbia, and she now sends some of her students to The Local Buzz for on-the-job (OTJ) training.

Prior to entering the MSW program in the CoSW, Smith-Hill taught middle school students with intellectual disabilities. Her background in psychology and education prepared her to teach, but she did not know how to help students in poverty. Seeing her students struggle frustrated her, and she recalls thinking to herself, “I’ve got to figure out how to do better.” This led her to social work, where she learned about “seeing things from a perspective I didn’t have” and “meeting people where they are.”

Students in Smith-Hill’s class at Dreher learn life and domestic skills like doing laundry or cooking, and she guides them through every step in the process. For example, students may study a recipe, then make a grocery list, then cook. Sometimes, they will even go to the store and pick out their ingredients. “My whole goal is to make them as self-sufficient as possible,” says Smith-Hill, stressing the importance of functionality.

Placing students at The Local Buzz was a natural fit. Her students get hands-on experience at the coffee shop and then run their own coffee business at Dreher. Students take orders from teachers and staff, make the coffee, and then navigate the halls to deliver the drinks. The students then profit $10 each week from their hard work.

Three of Smith-Hill’s students participate in the OTJ experience at The Local Buzz, spending about two hours there one day a week. Smith-Hill explains that the process isn’t easy: students walk to a nearby bus stop and take the city bus to Five Points, where they must switch buses to get to Rosewood Drive, where The Local Buzz is located. Once there, the students don their Local Buzz shirts and aprons and begin working through a task list, which includes cleaning, greeting customers, and helping owner Stephanie Bridgers with the baking. The students love spending time there, and getting an occasional free scoop of ice cream is an added bonus.

The Local Buzz 2Smith-Hill is grateful for the connection she made with Bridgers when the coffee shop opened. Bridgers has a “passion for helping,” says Smith-Hill, and did not hesitate to get the OTJ program off the ground soon after they discussed it. For Bridgers, The Local Buzz is not just a coffee shop—it’s a “café-community” with a mission to bring people together. She cites this welcoming, inclusive atmosphere as a reason why Local Buzz is the perfect spot for OTJ training. The students “are part of the staff, and people ask ‘When are the boys working?’” says Bridgers. She explains that the students learn a variety of skills: how to take a bus to a job, attend to job tasks, and get to know people. “It’s a nice opportunity to give them something that I don’t think they’d be able to have,” says Bridgers.

The lessons about cultural competency that Smith-Hill gained from her MSW serve her well today when she interacts with a variety of different people. Now, she has the knowledge and skills to build rapport with parents, students, and community members and be a resource to the families of her students.

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