Photo of the new site of coffee shop－A-Coffee in Shanghai on May 20, 2018. (Photo/China News Service)
A Shanghai nonprofit group that ran a coffee shop to teach autistic adolescents how to interact with others said on Sunday it has found a new location and will reopen soon, after being forced to close over a rent issue.
The group－Shanghai Angels Salon－which started up about a decade ago, helps young people with autism and their families through support programs, music therapy and other activities.
On April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, the group opened the coffee shop－A-Coffee－in a small, first-floor unit of a commercial building downtown. It was staffed by eight autistic teenagers, 15 to 18.
Some 3,000 volunteers signed up to act as customers for the project. The autistic "employees" would take orders and make coffee－as well as handle any problems, which were made up to test the teens' interaction skills. The coffee was free.
"We created a small environment for them to communicate with different people and learn to solve problems so they can one day walk alone in real society," said Cao Xiaoxia, head of Shanghai Angels Salon. "Some showed the potential to work independently after a year or two of practice."
On May 6, the shop closed because the landlord wanted to take back the space.
Cao's son Tanni Ishiwata, who runs the shop, said that when news came out about the closure, the group received more than 500 offers to accommodate the project. A room of about 200 square meters was chosen on the first floor of the Shanghai Youth Activity Center.
"The center is in downtown Shanghai, so it is convenient and safe for the kids to go to work by themselves. It is free and stable. We can use it for long time," Ishiwata said.
"We moved our coffee machine and other equipment there today," he added. The new shop will open in about a week.
"The kids and their parents are excited about the new home. About 20 autistic youths and volunteers came to help today," he said.
Ishiwata said that a logo for the coffee shop was designed for the new home. It has two parts in a "puzzle" arrangement－a capital letter "A", representing the word for love in Chinese, and several puzzle pieces in blue, representing autism. Below the letter is the word "coffee", with the letter "o" replaced by a coffee bean.
"The designer is an autistic boy in our project, and the logo represents his affection for the work," Ishiwata said. "Previously, a customer asked the boy what the letter 'A' on his shirt meant, and he replied quickly and confidently that it means'A-Coffee'," he said.
"He consciously links the 'A' to our shop. We are surprised and happy to see his improvement in expression and logic," Ishiwata said.