People with special needs are just as capable of living happy, successful lives as anyone else. But they’re often underestimated for their abilities, especially in the professional world.
Wassim El Hage, on the other hand, knows these assumptions are wrong. “They are not abnormal, just special,” he said. That’s why most of the people he works with are differently-abled individuals.
Having interacted with special needs people as a physical therapist, Wassim has always seen their potential for greatness. So, when he decided to open a business, he had a vision: the first coffee shop in Lebanon with a team of special needs employees.
Wassim collaborated with the Lebanese Down Syndrome Association to find individuals whose skills were the right fit for a customer service job. The organization also provided an assistant to help train and prepare them. Thanks to their help, the Agonist Coffee Shop opened its doors in late 2018.
“The word ‘agonist’ is defined as ‘a substance which initiates a physiological response when combined with a receptor,'” Wassim explained. “I am glad that ever since the official opening, as intended, the coffee shop has been nothing but a true positive agonist.”
Today, the Zalka shop has 10 employees. Eight live with some kind of developmental or intellectual disability. And they’re all the reason customers keep coming back.
Along with coffee, juice, smoothies, and homemade desserts, staff serve smiles every day. Maria, Ghassan, Elie, and their coworkers radiate happiness and treat customers like family.
“This is the best home to have and I am so happy to see people daily and talk to them. I am never tired but enthusiastic,” Maria said.
Wow! A Lebanese coffee shop integrating people with disabilities in the workforce!
— Ralph Aoun (@ralphaoun) January 22, 2019
Even more importantly, they’re doing a service for others who have been treated differently their whole lives.
“Parents whose kids have special needs told me they’re thrilled that for once, in a coffee shop, their children aren’t stared at. They added ‘you also gave us hope that when our children grow up, they will find work opportunities,'” Wassim added.
Here’s to many more years of Agonist success, friendship, and acceptance!
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