Adam Kalk can’t speak. But what he lacks in words, he makes up for with a big smile, charisma and warm relationships with colleagues and customers at his Starbucks internship on north Main Avenue in Durango.
The Durango High School sophomore has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by an extra chromosome. But it hasn’t stopped him from leaning to stock napkins, wash dishes and greet customers at the coffee shop – many of the same jobs his peers are doing at their first jobs.
Adam’s father, Bryan Kalk, a paraeducator at DHS, organized the internship for Adam at Starbucks on north Main Avenue so he can be prepared to work at a coffee shop after he graduates, Bryan said.
“I just really see him thriving with it,” he said.
Adam, 15, who has cognitive delays, is embraced by the community at his internship and shines there, Bryan said.
“The customers love seeing him. The employees love seeing him,” he said.
Adam can be a bit stubborn. He spent the first hour of the first day at his Starbucks internship in an armchair by the windows. But when his father pretended to leave, Adam got up and became interested in work.
Two months into his internship, Adam seemed comfortable working alongside his father washing dishes and wielding an industrial sprayer.
“Good work, buddy. ... You might need to scrub the top,” Bryan said, as he passed along coffee shop equipment last week.
Adam knows some sign language, and Bryan said he can understand his son’s wants and needs about 95% of the time.
Presented with the oddity of a Durango Herald photographer taking pictures of him doing his job, Adam was a bit hesitant. But when he was offered the chance to take a few pictures of his own, Adam brightened and started snapping shots. He reviewed them and, using hand gestures, encouraged his subjects to move closer together.
Starbucks store manager Charlotte Emm said bringing Adam and another DHS student with special needs into the store has been rewarding.
“They really bring a lot of joy to our Starbucks,” Emm said.
Altogether, Adam spends about seven hours a week at his internships, Bryan said.
Adam also works at a coffee cart in the high school where he is learning to make coffee, handle money and interact with customers, Bryan said. The cart is donation-based, but teachers still ask students for change sometimes.
Adam tried working at Common Grounds Cafe at Durango Public Library, which is for students with special needs. But Adam found it wasn’t a good fit because it required verbal skills and the ability to follow multistep instructions, Bryan said.
Starbucks has been a better environment for Adam, who understands machines. He immediately grasped the concept of the industrial sprayer at the shop, Bryan said.
After Adam graduates from high school, Bryan said he plans to start a coffee shop where Adam and others with disabilities can work. Bryan may also buy a food truck, serving coffee and breakfast foods, and employ residents with disabilities.
“I want to see a whole community get behind it and be inclusive,” Bryan said.