By Emily Williams
While celebrating its fifth anniversary Nov. 4, the Vestavia Hills-based nonprofit Unless U announced a new collaborative project with Big Spoon Creamery at the store’s Homewood location.
Executive Director Lindy Cleveland announced that the organization’s new school, currently under construction, will now include Unless U Scoops. The ice cream shop will employ the adults with developmental disabilities who attend the school to serve up Big Spoon Creamery’s ice cream.
“One of our primary goals at Unless U is to provide multiple opportunities to shape and grow our students as a whole,” Cleveland said. “We want to do all we can to offer our students a well-rounded life. So far, we have been able to provide services for our students to grow academically, socially, physically and spiritually. However, we have not had the means to serve our students vocationally.”
She noted that there aren’t enough quality jobs for adults with developmental disabilities in Birmingham and even fewer that provide piece of mind to their families.
“Over the years, we have had multiple students who have bad experiences with employment,” Cleveland said. “For example, we had a student who was getting their tips stolen by another coworker, and another of our students had shoppers hurt her feelings on several occasions because they didn’t like the way she bagged their groceries and so on.”
In addition, students are often offered hours that make it difficult for parents and family to organize transportation. At the ice cream shop, students can simply walk from class to work.
“We know that jobs provide purpose, and we want to give the students of Unless U the opportunity to wake up every day feeling valued and purposeful, whether that be in the classroom, on stage, on the basketball court or at work,” Cleveland said.
The idea for an ice cream shop was inspired by her family’s love of ice cream, including her older brother’s, who was the inspiration for development of Unless U. Big Spoon was their first choice for collaboration, due to the quality of their product as well as their mission to use something as simple as ice cream to affect the community.
“We felt like we could make an even greater impact on the Birmingham community as a team!” she said. “So we reached out to (owners) Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara with our crazy idea, and they were quickly on board. They even have creative ideas on ways to include the students on creating new flavors.”
The organization broke ground on the site of the new school in November of last year, and the project is projected to be finished in fall 2020.
At the time of publication, Unless U had raised $1.5 million of their $1.6 million capital campaign goal for the new school.
For more information, visit unlessu.org.