December 2012

Featured Emerging Leader

Transition and Employment Projects

One of the goals of the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects is to expand the vision of what is possible for youth and young adults with developmental disabilities to learn, live, work and play in their communities. We have been capturing stories of Montanans under age 34 who have a developmental disability according to the Montana definition and who have creatively organized their supports to:


  • Live in the community (on their own or with family or friends) and/or
  • Work in the community (including owning their own business) and/or
  • Access inclusive education (high school, college, community classes) and/or
  • Participate in recreation and leisure activities that are inclusive (that is, alongside people without disabilities)

Each month, we share one of these stories with Listserv members. You may also read about Montana's Emerging Leaders in our Featured EL Archives, 2009 EL Showcase [PDF] and 2010 EL Showcase [PDF]. To nominate yourself or someone else as an Emerging Leader, visit the Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects web site.

Dude, where is my coffee?


Trenton Butler is a 25-year-old man living in Big Sandy, Montana. He grew up in Bozeman, Montana, attended Bozeman High School and then relocated to Big Sandy when he was accepted into adult services with Big Sandy Activities (BSA). He remains a dedicated Montana State University Bobcat fan! Trenton likes to be challenged and to stay busy. He was frustrated that he didn't have enough meaningful work to do at the activity center. Support staff from BSA helped Trenton look into other State Developmental Disabilities-funded programs in various Montana towns to see if there was more work for him elsewhere, but the tasks the other agencies had available (shredding, recycling, cleaning and sorting hangers) either didn't sound mentally challenging or would be very difficult for him to perform due to his impact of disability. His cerebral palsy makes it nearly impossible to consistently work using two hands. Trenton also currently receives support services at all times and the agencies he interviewed didn't feel they could provide those intense services in the community.


Lorrie Merrill, Director of BSA, suggested to Trenton that he start a business. She said, "You like coffee. Why don't you start a coffee business?" Trenton began his business "Dude, where is my coffee?" in July 2012. He is packaging and selling coffee by the bag. He offers ground coffee or whole beans in regular, decaffeinated, and a dark roast. He has started selling the coffee locally out of the BSA office but is currently connecting with businesses in his town where the coffee could be sold. His pastor at church recently bought five bags to serve to the members of the congregation as an advertisement strategy. The local grocery store is going to allow him to do some promotion and sales this fall, and the town's bed and breakfast will be serving his coffee as well as offering it for sale within their mercantile. BSA purchases his coffee to serve in their group homes and day activity center. Trenton offers his coffee by mail with the customer paying the shipping cost. Trenton in his coffee work area


Trenton advises other entrepreneur wannabes that it is more difficult than it looks to develop a business but also stated that it does get easier over time. Initially he and Lorrie thought he would be roasting his own beans (in addition to packaging and selling) but that proved to be too costly and time consuming. They got helpful information from other coffee companies and from Joe Laplante at Bear Paw Development Corporation in Havre. (Bear Paw Development is a private non-profit organization created to help improve regional economic conditions in Hill, Blaine, Liberty, Chouteau and Phillips Counties and the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian Reservations.) Trenton and his support staff are still navigating the details around setting up the accounting system for the business, and determining and reporting net income for Trenton. They are already inquiring about Social Security work incentives to maximize his income.


Trenton is exploring funding and support through Vocational Rehabilitation to expand his business. VR will be assisting him to develop a business plan and providing feedback about more profitable strategies. He would like to be able to sell his coffee at summer markets and envisions being able to print his own labels for the bags, hire employees to work for him, and have company uniforms. He wants to make enough money to be able to start his next business, "Dude, where's my life?" His dream is to be a promotional speaker to youth and adults with disabilities as well as people who work with folks with disabilities. Trenton's message to others is, "People with disabilities are just like people without disabilities and if you happen to have a disability you shouldn't feel bad about yourself."


Trenton recently joined the Rural Institute on Disabilities Consumer Advisory Council where he will have the opportunity to help shape Rural Institute projects, educate and serve as a role model to other young people, and recruit the 2013 Emerging Leaders.


Trenton and his coffee work area 


Kim Brown
MT Transition Listserv


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This publication was produced by the University of Montana's

Rural Institute Transition and Employment Projects.