Hurricane Joe: PIP program delivers coffee, joy to staff

As the A-period bell rings, the Hurricane Joe coffee cart is preparing for motion.  In room 167, home to the Pathways to Independence program for students with developmental disabilities, the bean grinding and brewing machines work in harmony to create perfect cups of steaming hot joe that students then expertly pour into Hurricane Joe-branded mugs. 

Many ARHS staff, meanwhile, are waiting in their rooms. They paid a $20 monthly subscriber fee, so PIP students and their paraeducators will be delivering fresh mugs of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to their doors each and every morning. 

The Hurricane Joe program at ARHS may only be a few months old but it has created waves of joy in the building. It started out with only six subscribers and now has over 30; that number is growing by the day. 

One person stopped the cart while en route and asked, “Do you take cash?”

“Yes, cash or check,” said, Chris Kusek, the Pathways to Independence Coordinator and brainchild of the Hurricane Joe Program. “At less than a dollar a day, you can’t get a better price.”

Daily deliveries also include staff choices of cream and sugar. Hurricane Joe has also been known to give the occasional free muffin on Fridays to their most loyal subscribers. 

The Pathways to Independence Program is not a newcomer to the coffee game. They still maintain  a self-service coffee machine in the teachers’ lounge for a dollar per cup.

 But last year, with help from local roaster Dean’s Beans and a generous parent donation, PIP was able to purchase new grinding and brewing machines that have made the coffee making process six times more efficient. Suddenly, deliveries were possible. 

The reusable, insulated ceramic Hurricane Joe mugs were donated to the program, which also saves paper and plastic waste. Each day when a new mug of coffee is delivered to staff members, PIP students collect the staffer’s mug from the previous day, to wash it for the next cycle. 

The mug’s logo was designed for free by a graphic designer in Northampton. The mugs are great free advertising and are a large selling point. “I like the mugs; they are very high quality,” said Crystal Garrity, guidance secretary and subscriber. 

PIP’s deliveries and coffee business has aims much bigger than just turning a profit. The main goal for the program is to “involve students in a real business, allowing [the teachers] to support authentic social skill functional awareness,” said Kusek. “[We are also] raising awareness [of our program and our students] in the high school community.”

“For some students [outside of PIP], it’s their first time seeing the students in our program,” added Kusek. 

Chhendara Um, a student in PIP, said that she really liked this social aspect and she loves that the coffee drop-offs “make customers happy.”  Um even saw an old friend while out delivering coffee.

The coffee carts are staffed by two PIP students and two teachers. Each time a beverage is delivered, the student working the cart is encouraged and shown how to introduce themselves to the customer. 

Staff are always excited to greet the students when they arrive with a delivery. “By Thursday of my first week, it had become the best part of my morning,” said Garrity.  “There’s something about the joy of seeing different people each morning, new smiling faces.”

Hurricane Joe’s new system also teaches the students important vocational skills such as washing dishes, handling money, and general accounting. At the end of each week, a student accountant records sales and makes receipts. 

The students also learn budgeting skills and shop for all of their own supplies; they take the bus to the supermarket for this purpose. These responsibilities “create authentic situations students respond to. They know that it is a real business with real money so they are more likely to engage in it,” said Kusek. “And having these skills is important for PIP students’ lives after high school.”

Some of the money earned from Hurricane Joe goes back into purchasing cream, sugar, and other necessities for a coffee business, but the rest is used for outings into the community. PIP has gone on outings to restaurants, parks, and various fun activities. 

Staff members who haven’t signed up: it’s not too late! 

Email kusekc@arps.org or stop by the PIP room to purchase a month-long ticket to ride the coffee train.