A church in Florida with a recently opened coffee shop that was staffed by adults with autism spectrum disorder was the victim of a fire and burglary.
GraceWay Church in Leesburg experienced a fire last Friday that impacted their youth and children’s building, which also damaged the GraceWay Grounds coffee shop.
Alice Dickson, a spokesperson for GraceWay, reached out to The Christian Post via email on Sunday, explaining that the church was also burglarized.
“Friday night the Youth Center of GraceWay Church was set on fire and the church was burglarized. The Youth Center was gutted and GraceWay Grounds coffee shop and cafe was seriously damaged by smoke,” explained Dickson.
An investigation into the fire and burglary is ongoing, with the Daily Commercial reporting Saturday that police were talking with a “person of interest” about the crime.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Jones said that the unnamed individual was found passed out on his mother’s porch near the church, with drugs and a cut on his leg, reported the Commercial.
In a statement posted to their Facebook page on Friday, GraceWay Grounds explained that no one had been harmed in the fire, adding “Pray for us! Stay tuned for more info. #gracewaystrong.”
The organizers of the annual Autism Family Fun Day joined in on the call for prayers for the church coffee shop, posting a statement to Facebook on Friday.
“So many families have used this church for support long before so many new churches have also picked up the mantle of our special needs community,” they stated. “No one was there they are reporting. Let's send support to them and hopefully all will be well.”
Last October, the church opened the GraceWay Grounds Coffee & Café outreach ministry, which was aimed in part to help give autistic individuals employment training.
Roberta Kellan, director of Operations for GraceWay Grounds Coffee & Café, told CP in an earlier interview that she has a son who is on the autism spectrum.
“I chose specifically the coffee shop because my son trained at a coffee shop while in Michigan, and it was one of his favorite places of employment. It offers an opportunity to be easily trained and interact with the public,” said Kellan to CP last year.
“My son was able to receive on-the-job training via a work study program created by the public school system. They act as a liaison between the young people and participating employers. My son has flourished.”
At its opening, the café had six volunteer workers and its primary income stemming from donations. Any profits went back into the coffee shop and towards employment training.