Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright worked with the founder and director of Lil E Coffee Cafe Paul Constance to help make his dream of providing meaningful employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities a reality. Constance’s three-year-old daughter Ella, who has Down syndrome, inspired the non-profit venture, which opened its doors in the Ampersand (formerly Sun Life Plaza) in downtown Calgary in February.
Calgary partner Justin Pettigrew was involved in the project from its initial stages, incorporating the company, establishing the board of directors, assisting with the initial financing and working with Brian Milne and Elisabeth Trotter to obtain registered charity status and offer guidance on other charity matters.
In the face of pandemic-related delays and at a trying time for food-based businesses, the response from supporters, donors, volunteers, potential employees and coffee lovers has been unexpectedly and overwhelmingly positive. It has led the company to believe that its goal of building 10,000 careers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is not only ambitious, but attainable.
Pettigrew, who led Norton Rose Fulbright’s efforts and sits on the board of directors, said:
“Despite their willingness and desire to work, so many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are denied the opportunity. At Lil E, we are trying to change this and every one of our project supporters, from the volunteers to the members of the board of directors, is dedicated to making a life-changing investment in this underserved population and the larger community.”
The café received hundreds of employment applications before the doors opened, and hired five people with Down syndrome and five people with autism as baristas. While the opportunities do not have a fixed term, Lil E is committed to helping its employees in their career journey and working with its partners to find continued meaningful employment opportunities outside and after their time with Lil E.
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Caroline Arbour, Editorial Advisor
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