Sunday, July 03, 2022

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From Treats to Training, the Nest Continues to Give Back


By partnering with local breweries, staff at The Nest in Deep River is baking Doggie Barks, dog treats made with peanut butter and spent brewing grains. Photo courtesy of The Nest

By partnering with local breweries, staff at The Nest in Deep River is baking Doggie Barks, dog treats made with peanut butter and spent brewing grains. (Photo courtesy of The Nest)

The Nest Coffee House in Deep River began as an effort to give back and be an inclusive part of the Deep River community, providing job training and the skills necessary for future jobs for young people with disabilities. Since March, Nest has found a new way of giving back the community, specifically in the form of dog treats.

At its location on Main Street and at various local business in town, the coffee shop will be selling dog treats called Doggie Barks, whose notable ingredient is leftover spent grain given to Nest by the three breweries in the tri-town area: Little House Brewing Company in Chester, High Nine Brewing in Deep River, and Surfridge Brewing Company in Essex.

Spent grains are leftover grains that otherwise would be considered waste after the brewing process for beer production is finished. Rather than put those grains to waste straight away, The Nest has collaborated with the three breweries since March to create the treats, which are made with peanut butter, flour, and eggs.

With time, different kinds of treats with new flavors and for other pets may be produced as well, according to Lisa Enright, development director at The Nest.

“We’ve had requests for cats, and some for other flavors,” she said. “We haven’t really branched out other than the peanut butter. But certainly in our future I see us doing that.”

The idea for the recycling effort by Nest and the breweries was founded after a relative of one of Nest’s young bakers found dog treats made of spent grains that were created by a company in Michigan, according to Jane Moen, the executive director at The Nest. After immediately selling out their first batches, Nest decided to bolster its relationships with High Nine and Little House by producing its own brand of treats.

In just its second month of producing the treats, The Nest has been able to expand its sale to a variety of local stores, including Adams Hometown Market, Simon’s Marketplace in Chester, Foodworks in Old Saybrook, and all three partner breweries. According to Enright, a prospect list of new locations has been created, with a new sales spot being one at a dog-friendly hotel in Rhode Island.

On top of their popularity and sales outside Deep River, the production of the treats has also been a way for The Nest to provide job opportunities for young people with disabilities, as well as the new skills necessary.

“Our goal is always to provide jobs. The more jobs we can provide for these young people, the better,” said Moen. “I think the front-facing job of a barista is a little challenging for some young adults. There’s a lot of customer contact and a lot of tasks. Since I don’t have a job as a dishwasher, everyone kind of does everything. So the opportunity to have a job that was maybe a little more focused and tight, and not front-facing, sounded kind of exciting.”

The young employees, with skills in time management, food measuring, and packaging, are able to produce up to 90 packages of the treats per week. Those necessary organizational skills in creating Doggie Barks go right down to calculating their exact expiration date, which normally is six weeks after final preparation.

This work is testament to increased job numbers and shift hours The Nest has provided for its young workers. It was that chance to provide healthful, beginning job opportunities and training for young people with disabilities that was the personal priority for Moen before the opening of The Nest.

“I have a daughter who has autism, and she’s really bright. But we found for her, getting and keeping a job was a really hard task, and it wasn’t for a lack of her ability to do a job,” she said. “It was the anxiety and the understanding that would have to go into getting to the point where you learn a job well. There’s all kinds of research out there that shows that the biggest predictor of success for a young adult in the future is if they had a job in high school. For someone with a disability, it’s critical.”

Aside from the comfortable start The Nest has provided for disabled youth in job training and skills teaching, the coffee shop also has for sale a variety of products created by its young employees. While grabbing a package of Doggie Barks, customers can browse a selection of homemade soap bars, hair scrunchies, mugs, and small, framed works of art. To Moen, these products and the dog treats are meant to represent pride in neurodiversity, and inclusion in general, that is welcomed at The Nest, a place where its young employees can call home as a safe space for who they are.

“We’re really committed to having everything inclusive. That’s kind of our goal. We call it ‘a soft place to land.’ Nest started off [training people] with autism and intellectual disabilities, but it’s really ended up as a place for lots of groups that feel marginalized,” said Moen. “We love that. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever is your life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”

The Nest is committed to an initiative to teach the community about the neurodiversity of its employees and help shift the conversation and views surrounding those with mentally and intellectually disabling conditions. To express this narrative not just with its employment population, there is also a Neurodiversity Children’s Library on a shelf in one of its rooms, which includes stories about children with disabilities. Further demonstrating its commitment to inclusion, The Nest will fly its Pride flag for the month of June and will display Pride-related items as well.

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