Dirt Coffee impresses investors at contest

The Littleton nonprofit that hires autistic people wins at The Tank

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The employees at Dirt Coffee are amazing — just ask the people who donated $7,291 to the company at a nonprofit event hosted by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce at the Denver Botanic Gardens on March 23.

The company took first place in The Tank, inspired by the TV show “Shark Tank.” It is a forum in which six local nonprofits pitch their organization or a unique program idea in front of community business leaders, lenders and investors.

Dirt Coffee has a company mission to train and employ young adults affected by autism spectrum disorders. The nonprofit, which has run as a food truck since 2013, will open a brick-and-mortar location in Littleton this year at 5767 Rapp St.

The new location opens the door for at least 10 new employees, doubling Dirt’s workforce. During The Tank, co-founder of Dirt Coffee Lauren Burgess said the company is ultimately looking to hire 50 more individuals with autism.

Burgess said 50,000 autistic people graduate high school each year but only 16 percent find full-time employment.

“(Autistic people) are misunderstood as somebody with a disability rather as seen as someone with a different ability,” Burgess said.

Dirt employees receive a job coach, who helps them better their skills and increase their independence at work and home, Burgess said. Employees receive instruction applicable to their every-day lives, such as social skills training and training regarding public transit use.

“We are bringing more than jobs to the community,” Burgess said. “We are teaching our community and other businesses what it means to accept individuals with autism.”

Overall, The Tank generated $20,485 in donations. Last March, the event raised a little more than $17,000.

“Raising over $20,000 for six nonprofits in our business community is very meaningful and it is extremely gratifying to be able to have such an impact on their success,” Robert Golden, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in an email.

Coming in second place was the Warrior Bonfire Program, receiving $4,320 in donations. The Centennial-based nonprofit takes Purple Heart recipients on small group trips around the country to allow wounded veterans to enjoy camaraderie and boost morale.

Skatuary, an Englewood-based nonprofit indoor skateboarding Christian ministry, came in third place with $2,130.

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