Erin Willman refused to give up against the odds, and now she’s inspiring disabled people and their families. Her message of positivity is one we could not resist sharing!
White Cane Coffee is a company founded by 22-year-old Erin Willman. Not only is this young entrepreneur inspiring young women to follow their dreams, but she is also leading a much bigger movement. Her goal? Normalizing disabled people in the workplace.
When Erin was fifteen, she lost her vision. It was then people started telling her what she cannot do, but she wanted to show them what she can do. Erin had applied for jobs but was turned away because of her disability. Erin decided that instead of letting other people turn her away, she would create her career. In just one year, the young woman became the CEO of her own company–White Cane Coffee.
What started as an idea on a bad day is now a booming business that has put Erin’s coffee on the shelves of several shops in different cities, but this is just the beginning. Her main storefront is located in the small, charming town of Warren, Pennsylvania. There, she sells an assortment of organic coffee whole bean, ground, compostable individual-cups, and cold brew blends.
But White Cane Coffee does more than sell java to visitors and residents of their small community. They create opportunities for blind and autistic people to learn excellent work skills. Moreover, the workers gain confidence in their overcoming the roadblocks they face each day. Take a look.
What does White Cane Coffee stand for?
As well as fantastic coffee, inclusiveness is the main focus when it comes to the making of White Cane Coffee. Each package that the coffee comes in is printed with a label containing Braille. This concept was just one of Erin’s brilliant ideas to become more inclusive.
She often mused to herself and asked the question, “why should people who are blind not be able to shop for themselves?”
White Cane Coffee is one of the first companies to label all of its products in Braille.
White Cane Coffee provides jobs for the handicapped community at a livable wage. The shop is currently providing eight jobs to disabled workers. The goal is to allow them to have freedoms they should receive elsewhere but are wrongfully deprived of.
By creating the jobs provided at White Cane Coffee, the company enriches the lives of these people. Erin and her family always share their motto,
“If you can change one person’s life, you are changing the world.” ~Erin Willman
These jobs go deeper than paying wages. Indeed, they bring hope to the employees to show them they, too, matter and are a working part of something much bigger. Erin even brought her employees with her to a business dinner meant for the CEOs of the companies in Warren County. She believes they are just as important as she is to the company.
How the company profits benefit disabled people
Like any other company, profit goes to pay the employees that are working for the company to allow them to have a livable wage.
But that is not enough for this entrepreneurial enterprise. White Cane Coffee’s profit also benefits so many more people beyond their employees. Here are ways they advocate for people who face unique challenges.
Helping to defray the expense of leader dog training
Proceeds go to The Sight Center for Northwest Pennsylvania. That organization’s mission is to “prevent blindness and promote independence for those with vision loss.”
Through this center, Erin and White Cane Coffee began to support a leader dog named Erie. A portion of White Cane’s money was given to the program to support the dog’s training. Erin is unable to have her own dog due to an allergy. Still, she decided to help with the cost of a leader dog for another person. Recently, Erie went off to Michigan for his final training. This is a program that will continuously receive our support.
Working with blind and disabled children in the community
Additionally, Erin spends much of her time working with schools and organizations that specialize in teaching the blind and disabled. She is exceptionally proud of the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, located in Pittsburgh. Erin visited them and saw their program designed to encourage work and self-reliance for their students. These skills are vital to independence.
Also, Erin had the opportunity to speak at the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Harrisburg, PA. Her message is one of hope and encouragement.
Her opening statement at that event was the following:
“When you lost your vision, people stood in line to tell you what you can’t do, now let’s talk about what you can do. You have value, you have worth and you can live an independent life.” ~Erin Willman
Hundreds of people in attendance remarked that Erin’s comments gave them fresh hope.
Helping non-profits raise funds
Warren County Children’s Advocacy Center is another one of the many programs White Cane Coffee supports. She supports them because, as she says, “They speak for those who can not speak for themselves.”
The coffee company created a unique blend of coffee. And for each bag or box sold, a portion of the proceeds goes to them. Erin’s fundraising strategy empowers organizations to sell coffee at competitive prices to drive better fundraiser earnings margins for the non-profit.
Erin’s reasoning for putting money into other organizations is straightforward. She states that it was never her dream to be the CEO who owns five cars, but it is her dream to be the CEO who changes the world.
Final thoughts on how Erin hopes to help disabled in her next phase
Above all, Erin and her team remain thankful for the fantastic support from their community. And more importantly, they are proud of how much they accomplish in providing resources and empowerment to disabled people. White Cane Coffee continues to flourish and plans to expand.
They hope to continue to create additional jobs, which will help even more people become independent. To that end, they are working on some very exciting projects to help gain the footing necessary to jump to the next level as a company.
You can listen to Erin on a podcast at https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/amiaudio/the-pulse-on-amiaudio/e/76605378 to hear her speak about her company’s plans and how she will continue to be a voice for disabled people.
Connect with Erin Willman:
2 1/2 E 3rd Ave, Warren, PA 16365
Follow White Cane Coffee on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @whitecanecoffee