Baking treats for people is what Isaac Rouw enjoys most about his job at Cup of Joe in Cedar Falls. His journey as a baker started when he worked with the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) team to attain the counseling needed for his job. He participated in the work experience program through River Hills School, which is a program that helps high school students with disabilities learn new skills, become familiar with the workforce, and build post-secondary educational goals through local opportunities.

Isaac joined Cup of Joe in Cedar Falls for his work experience program during his senior year. Cup of Joe is an espresso bar that features coffee beverages, pastries, and weekly music and game night events. When Isaac’s work experience with Cup of Joe ended after he graduated, they offered him a position in May 2022.  

IVRS rehabilitation counselor Lewis Litzel assisted Isaac with his transition from the work experience program to official employment with Cup of Joe. IVRS provided Isaac with shirts and aprons for work and connected him with a temporary job coach from Inclusion Connection to ensure support was available if needed.

Isaac has autism and is primarily nonverbal, but he finds other ways to communicate. He brings a communication device to work and he has learned to navigate the work environment through speaking one or two words at a time to his coworkers.

During his work experience at Cup of Joe, Isaac primarily washed dishes as he assisted with tasks at the bakery. Once he was hired as a baker, he started baking cookies every day. One year later, Isaac is thriving at Cup of Joe and is an essential part of the Cup of Joe team.

“He has been an absolute joy to work with and he is always in a good mood. Isaac is very proud of his work and makes others better. He is always focused on his work and he keeps others on task. Isaac is great at checking on supplies and letting us know if something is running low,” explained Leah Franck, the manager of Cup of Joe.

Isaac’s dedication to his work at Cup of Joe has helped him grow. Dawn Wilson, the owner of Cup of Joe, has known Isaac since he was young and observed his baking skills over time, recognized his potential, and advocated for his employment at Cup of Joe. Through his work at Cup of Joe, Isaac has not only proven his passion for baking, but has positively impacted the work process and business as a whole.

“I just think Isaac is such an amazing gentleman and that I am the one who has the privilege to be able to work with him and have him work at Cup of Joe. Isaac has made our business a better place, and I hope he’s with us forever,” said Dawn.  

Isaac’s story goes beyond his individual achievements. It highlights the importance of a supportive network, demonstrated by his family. Tyann Rouw, Isaac’s mother, played a crucial role in nurturing his passion for baking and cultivating his skills in the kitchen. The support provided by Tyann, her husband Chris, and Isaac’s siblings has been instrumental in his career journey.

“Anytime I did anything in the kitchen, he was interested. He started out by doing things like stirring and putting batter in the pan. As he got older, he started learning ownership skills by being in charge of the timer. That morphed into him taking the cookies off of the cookie sheet and continuing to progress from there. He really liked to take ownership and control of things in the kitchen. He also likes loading and running the dishwasher, really all of the components related to working in the kitchen,” explained Tyann.

Isaac’s dedication and the inclusive environment at Cup of Joe have contributed to his personal growth and job satisfaction. His consistent enthusiasm for work is evident in his eagerness to come in every day and highlights the importance of meaningful employment. Isaac’s contributions to the team extend beyond his baking skills; he has become part of the Cup of Joe family, appreciated by coworkers and customers alike.

“I am proud that he holds a job, is super independent at work, and is happy to go. He never has to be woken up or encouraged to go to work. He's always ready. The people at Cup of Joe have been so welcoming: Dawn and her staff, the customers, and especially the regulars. He's valued as part of the team. When I pick him up, people will say, ‘you’re Isaac’s mom!’ and that’s cool. When I ask Isaac if he likes working or if he loves it, he always says, ‘love’. Most people don’t really love their jobs, but he does,” explained Tyann.

Isaac’s journey demonstrates the great potential that individuals with disabilities bring to the workplace when given the opportunities they deserve.