WASILLA— Many people in the Valley have probably heard of Beary Cool Yogurt in the Carrs/Safeway strip mall but many more probably don’t know that shop is one of the only establishments in the Valley that exclusively hires people with disabilities.

“It’s unique and it’s awesome. The staff that we have there, they’re great. I mean, they have the biggest hearts over there. You can just tell when you walk in, like it’s a friendly, accepting place,” said Tabitha Alone, executive director of Hearts and Hands of Care supported employment.

The shop is owned and operated by the Hearts and Hands of Care, an organization that helps individuals and families with disabilities with a range of services.

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“They just offer so much so much in that one little spot but it does a lot for everyone, I think,” Alone said.

Alone said Beary Cool Yogurt owner, Kisha Smaw acquired the established frozen yogurt shop in 2017 with a vision: to help even the playing field for the local community of people with special needs.

This community is larger than most people realize, according to Store Manager Jayme Bonty, who oversees all the employees and the day-to-day operations. She said the main mission for this shop is to help employ people with disabilities in addition to teaching them essential life skills through their various tasks like cash-handling and customer service.

“It’s really about having them in the community,” Bonty said.

While a number of workplaces around the Valley employ one or two people with disabilities, Beary Cool stands apart, according to Bonty. They focus solely on people with disabilities, establishing them the primary demographic, not the minority. Bonty said this is a much needed opportunity for that particular community.

“We try to help them roll with the punches,” Bonty said. “I want them to succeed. I want to be a part of that.”

Bonty said that she started as a job coach, working at both Beary Cool Yogurt and the Hearts and Hands of Care Café off Financial Drive, which also employs people with disabilities. However, Alone said Beary Cool offers more to do with a larger and more diverse clientele to teach employees a range of skills.

Employees perform a number of tasks, from cash-handling and preparing the yogurts to cleaning the store and restocking inventory, according to Bonty. Employee Tony Anderson was seen busily cleaning the topping bar, which has over 50 different toppings. Customers can choose to top their yogurt with popular cereals like Captain Crunch or Fruity Pebbles, or they can go chocolate- or sprinkle-crazy with a spectrum of options.

Bonty said that she switches up the yogurt flavors and toppings often. She likes to put themes together and promote them on social media. This week, paper cutouts of superheroes like Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk were placed on topping containers, going with an Avengers theme in concert with the record-breaking film released over the weekend. Bonty said that she is thinking about having a Harry Potter theme next week.

There are 11 employees assisted by four job coaches like Julia Ervin, who enjoys filling the workspace with her jokes. Ervin helps employees accomplish their daily tasks and reports back to each of their case managers. She said that coaches need to be innovative to better help the employees.

Bonty agreed and said that one of the key philosophies there is to encourage the employees that mistakes are not only OK, but necessary to help them learn and grow as individuals, who all have their own unique personalities and temperaments dealing with whatever unfolds that day.

“Every day is brand new,” Bonty said. “Something might work for one person; it may not work for another person.”

Between the jokes, fun themes, achieving employees’ personal goals, Bonty said that she wants this place to always be a safe and positive environment for her employees.

“They help me grow in the same way I’m helping them,” Bonty said.

She said that she’s worked a lot in customer service jobs, but this has been the most rewarding to her because she believes in what Smaw set out to accomplish.

“I just like feeling like I’ve made a difference at the end of the day,” Bonty said.

For more information about Hearts and Hands, visit: www.heartsandhandsofcare.com.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com


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