Community Spotlight: Circle of Friends

by: Marisa Hart

If you walk into The Circuit on any given day, you might find your usual coffee drinkers or people utilizing the co-working space, but your attention will likely be drawn to the boisterous table of employees and volunteers, talking, laughing, and interacting with their peers in ways they couldn’t during lockdown. 


In this week’s blog, we’re so excited to talk about one of our community partners doing great things here in Cherokee county. Since opening earlier this year, Circle of Friends has been providing adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) opportunities for employment, socialization, and personal growth through a café in Downtown Woodstock. I met with Diane Keen, the owner and operator, to learn more about Circle of Friends’ mission and their partnership with Alma Coffee. 

The project started in late 2020 with Diane, a nursing instructor and parent to a young adult with IDD. Through research for her PhD and by being a parent of a young adult with IDD, Diane noticed a considerable absence of employment opportunities suitable for adults with IDD. 


Diane, with the help of others in the community, held a town hall in Hickory Flat to assess the needs of adults in Cherokee County with IDD. What Keane gathered from this town hall was that adults with IDD needed “opportunities to socialize, opportunities for supportive employment, and supportive, affordable housing.”


Around the same time as the town hall, Chat Tech was looking for proposals to fill space at The Circuit, a student center and co-working space located in the Woodstock campus of Chat Tech. Circle of Friends submitted a plan to provide employment opportunities for young adults with IDD and was subsequently approved shortly after. 


Then, when looking for coffee roasters in or around Cherokee County before opening, Circle of Friends partnered with Alma and the two worked together to train and educate their staff on direct trade coffee and espresso basics. “They’re a lot more than a supplier to us,” Diane said as we enjoyed a cup of “Flourish,” Circle of Friends’ exclusive co-branded coffee with Alma.

The Circle of Friends coffee shop finally opened in February with 13 employees, all young adults with IDD, and 10 volunteers offering support to the employees when necessary. 


Although providing good coffee is important, Circle of Friends has offered its group of employees so much more. Since opening, two of the original 13 have gone on to pursue full-time employment elsewhere. “It’s really been a great launching ground for some and a really good place for our young adults just to continue working,” says Diane.


It’s not just employment skills Circle of Friends offers to its employees. Around the same time Circle of Friends submitted its proposal to Chat Tech, the young adults living with IDD in Cherokee County were collectively facing a larger issue: in the face of rising COVID cases, many young adults in the community were stuck at home struggling with depression, loneliness, and isolation. 


As the employees learn employment skills, they’re gaining invaluable time socializing with their peers. The coffee shop, Diane says, “is just a venue for us to bring people together,” and that’s exactly what I felt as I talked to Diane in the expansive space of Circle of Friends’ coffee shop/basketball court/co-working interior.

The Circle of Friends coffee shop finally opened in February with 13 employees, all young adults with IDD, and 10 volunteers offering support to the employees when necessary. Although providing good coffee is important, Circle of Friends has offered its group of employees so much more. 


Since opening, two of the original 13 have gone on to pursue full-time employment elsewhere. “It’s really been a great launching ground for some and a really good place for our young adults just to continue working,” says Diane.


It’s not just employment skills Circle of Friends offers to its employees. Around the same time Circle of Friends submitted its proposal to Chat Tech, the young adults living with IDD in Cherokee County were collectively facing a larger issue: in the face of rising COVID cases, many young adults in the community were stuck at home struggling with depression, loneliness, and isolation. 


As the employees learn employment skills, they’re gaining invaluable time socializing with their peers. The coffee shop, Diane says, “is just a venue for us to bring people together,” and that’s exactly what I felt as I talked to Diane in the expansive space of Circle of Friends’ coffee shop/basketball court/co-working interior.

It’s been fantastic,” Diane says of the new opportunities to socialize. Diane’s goal, she said towards the end of the interview, is to open another location in the county with more space for the young adults to socialize.


If you want to see all the great things Circle of Friends accomplishes, meet the friendliest staff of baristas in Cherokee County, and try their signature Alma roast, Flourish, visit their location in The Circuit in Downtown Woodstock. Their team would be glad to serve you.


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