FACES of Flint & Genesee Business: Olivia Sanders, The Way Coffee Co.

Olivia Sanders started her career as a special education teacher. During her time in the school system, she noticed the lack of opportunities for special needs students after graduation.  

“Students that might not qualify for traditional transitional services, but are not college bound, had a hard time going directly into the workforce,” says Sanders. “We wanted to create a bridge for those individuals.” 

Through the nonprofit organization, The Way Coffee Co., Sanders and her staff provide employment experiences for those who are transitioning from high school to the workforce. Although the organization runs as a coffee trailer, its primary focus is the programming it provides.  

“Our values are meaningful instruction, employment experience, and quality products,” says Sanders. “We provide instruction aid for families, experience where participants work on the trailer and eventually our cafe, and we have ABeanToGo coffee and donuts from Blueline.” 

Sanders got her start in Flint with Carriage Town Ministries, the organization that runs Blueline Bakery, as an intern after college. The local nonprofit helped Sanders when she was looking to launch her organization. 

“We met with them last year upon the launch of our program to see how they structure everything with the bakery and their transitional employment,” says Sanders. “They have been very supportive by giving us advice and providing their donuts to us wholesale.” 

Currently, The Way Coffee Co. runs a partnership program out of 2nd Street Learning, an alternative education program in Flint. There, students make merchandise that is sold on The Way Coffee Co.’s website and learn the tools they need to work in the coffee trailer which sets up at the school as well as local craft shows. Soon, the organization plans to open a cafe in Fenton in a local realtor’s office. 

What is your favorite memory so far? 

We just did an event in Bicentennial Park where we made 200 hot chocolates. Our students from 2nd Street worked the event. It was great to see all our work come to fruition.  

Why did you decide to start your nonprofit in Genesee County? 

I didn’t grow up here, I came here for an internship during college, and I really fell in love with the atmosphere and the way people are willing to serve. There are funds here to help people, but even with money, you need people to do the work. 

How would you describe Flint & Genesee to an outsider? 

I feel like it’s a big town that turned small very fast. Where I am from, it’s 20-30 miles to anything, coming here it was scary and large but once we started making connections, we became a part of many different networks.  

Where do you like to spend your time in Genesee County? 

My daughter and I have a membership to Toddler Country in Flushing, we like North End Cafe in Fenton, my husband and I have been doing Hot Works in Fenton, and we like all the fun museums and libraries in the area. We also spend a lot of time with our church family at The Way Church in Fenton. 

Why did you decide to join the Flint & Genesee Chamber? 

Nicole Hartley, who runs 2nd Street, is close with Andrew (Executive Director of the Chamber), and that crew said that you had to be connected here. We felt intimidated doing something new. Now, we’re learning every day about the business side of things, how to get grants, and more. The Chamber has like-minded, innovative people that we’ve met at Luncheons. It feels crazy to try to start something new, but we got a lot of encouragement. 

How can your organization help other businesses? 

If there are any local businesses that want to see how a student or someone with a learning disability would work at their organization, we want to connect with them to help get students placed in jobs or coaching for accommodations on how to be a more accessible business.  

What advice would you offer others starting a nonprofit? 

Just do it. Have drawn out exactly what it will entail and the mission of your organization.  

Learn more about The Way Coffee Co. at WayCoffee.org.