The Sunflower Cafe




For Laura Dolan, Lead Special Education teacher at G.W. Carver Elementary School, it’s simple. “I am a Mom of two boys– who I send to school everyday with the hope and prayer that their teachers love them and invest in their learning just as much as I love and invest in those who I teach.”

Within seconds of walking into her classroom of six special needs children, the investment in going above an beyond the call of duty is evident and that same love and willingness is visibly reciprocated in the actions and expressions of the children, too.

If your cup feels empty, the student employees of The Sunflower Cafe will certainly fill it right up— both literally and figuratively. Sophie Myers King exudes happiness and clearly helps run the cafe for her peers. At just 11 years old, her ability to unknowingly remind me of my daily blessings is something I most certainly will not forget. She was so excited to be able to serve her “community” through her job at school and that was a force in and of itself that filled my cup to the tippy top last week on my visit to the Cafe.. You see, we take for granted the many opportunities we are blessed with as typical people.

“What my students learn each year is very individualized and changes based on what they need throughout the year. They needed something that would incorporate the important life skills they work on and at the same time, be highly motivating and provide real life experiences,” Laura explains. “I knew I needed to provide something more than what I was doing within the four walls of my classroom. Originally, the idea was to have a bake sale every Friday with goodies that we made as a class, but logistically, the challenges made this idea a little difficult.”

With a few adjustments to the original idea, Laura developed a mobile delivery service concept and wrote a grant in hopes of being awarded the funds to bring the idea to fruition. Unfortunately, the grant was denied, but the idea was alive and an angel in the form of a parent was waiting to provide the items needed.“It was one morning jst before Christmas break when Kristi Cox approached me,” Laura recalls. “She had caught wind of the idea and wanted to help. (Kristi’s daughter Alea is in my class). Earlier in the same year, the Cox family tragically lost their daughter Alivea to cancer. That morning, Kristi asked me if she could fund my project in honor of Alivea. Since they would not be buying her Christmas gifts this year, they wanted to put the money they would have typically spent on Alivea to a good cause. By January we had everything we needed to get started and were ready for our Grand Opening!”

In 2018, The Sunflower Cafe officially opened for business. “We named it The Sunflower Cafe in honor of Alivea— the brand reflects her favorite flower. We started small with just coffee and donuts and were able to add more options to our menu each week.” Uniforms were sponsored by a few local businesses, SD Gunner Fund, the Teresa Cowart Team and Barela Associates.

The customer base is made of the Carver teachers and staff who place their orders via Google Docs each week and pay for coffee and food based on a variety of options available. The activities that come with food service allow the students to use what they are learning in the classroom in a real life.

Before each delivery, the students sit down for a meeting to review their responsibilities and discuss the dialogue. Their plan is mapped out, coffee is made to order, labels are matched to each order to ensure accuracy, and then the is cart loaded and they head out to make deliveries. Each student has a role and is responsible for certain aspects of the preparation and delivery. I watched Sophie man the clipboard and check off the orders as they were delivered, while Dominic, Maryn, Levi, Jaden and Landyn made sure that each teacher had all of the utensils and drinks and everything that they needed. This week was a little different with a Pop-Up Lunch by The Smokin’ Pig. Coffee was still available of course. The kids strive to be efficient and accurate on every order. The teachers know them all by name and the excitement was empowering.

“My favorite part of delivery days are always the little moments of learning and progress— things like the first time a student says the word “delivery” correctly, or a student with Autism stopping to look a customer in the eyes when they are speaking to them, or a student making a coffee completely on their own and telling me to back up because “they got it!” These all are moments that make me so proud to work along side my co-workers,” Laura exclaims. Heather Fordham has been Laura’s para pro for 13 years and Heather Rowe joined their team four years ago.

“My hope is that each student who works at The Sunflower Cafe will learn and apply the life skills they learned with me to help them become contributing and successful members of our society,” Laura smiles. “I also pray that when they look back on their time working here, that they always remember the way it made them feel— full of pride and accomplishment.”

The Sunflower Cafe is looking for community partners. If you are able to sponsor or give to their program, please contact Laura Dolan at