Amy Wright, founder and owner of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, was named the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year on Sunday night for her work in advocating for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
The coffee shop is named after Wright’s daughter, Bitty, and son, Beau, who have Down syndrome. It employs 40 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Along with the title, Wright won $100,000 to assist her cause, CNN said.
Wright graduated from Jordan High School. She received a shoutout from Durham Public Schools on Thursday for winning the recognition.
Online voters selected the winner by voting among the 10 finalists through Dec. 12.
The other nine finalists received a $10,000 cash award, and donations made to a nonprofit organization of their choosing will be matched up to $50,000, CNN said.
Teary-eyed, Wright accepted the award Sunday night.
“People with disabilities have been in the shadows for too long, but no more,” Wright said during her speech.
Her shop opened as Beau’s Coffee in a 500-square-foot space with 19 people on the staff in January 2016. It soon became well known for its mission to employ and advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In July 2016, Beau’s Coffee was renamed Bitty & Beau’s Coffee to fulfill Beau’s 12th birthday wish to have his little sister’s name next to his. Eventually the shop moved into a 5,000-square-foot building that serves as a local coffee house and national headquarters. It now employs 40 people.
Bitty & Beau’s mission is expanding beyond North Carolina. It will open its second location in Charleston S.C., by the end of this year.
The coffee shop was Wright’s solution after she and her husband learned that 70 percent of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities did not have jobs, CNN reported.
“It hit me like a lightning bolt: a coffee shop!” Wright told CNN. “I realized it would be the perfect environment for bringing people together. Seeing the staff taking orders, serving coffee—they’d realize how capable they are.”
“I’m bringing this home to the 40 employees that work at Bitty & Beau’s Coffee because they are my heroes,” Wright said.
In her speech, Wright said she knew that Bitty and Beau would be watching the ceremony, and she spoke to them directly:
“I would not change you for the world, but I will change the world for you.”