The Grand Opening has come and gone, and through the utter exhaustion we are all feeling there is a collective understanding that something very, very special is happening...something we can neither name nor create on our own. It was two days of intense interaction, and a heck of a lot of slices and scoops being sold. It was smiles and tears, laughter and motion. And we discovered something we had not anticipated at all to the degree that immediately became obvious...
Buckaroos is a very sacred space.
God is very present there.
We are being carried along by something that only the Spirit could bring about, and we are barely beginning to understand that.
I can honestly say I have never worked harder, and never been more tired other than when we traveled each time to bring our children home. This was a new kind of "adoption", one of an entire community, and it caught me completely off guard. I never would have anticipated the experiences I personally had this weekend, nor the joy that I witnessed from so many corners.
First of all, our employees...all of them...differently abled and traditionally abled...what an AWESOME crew! The sort of meshing that occurred here is unprecedented in all my prior working years filled with hiring. The perfect people found their way to us, and we were able to sense exactly who they were through a field of applicants. This is a team in every possible way, and within just a couple of days we were all remarking with great awe in our voices how it feels as if we have all known each other forever, how our various strengths and weaknesses complement each other so well, how everyone works together to accomplish a goal, and how there is an incredible work ethic present in each and every person on staff. This would have been impossible to put together on our own, and I have no doubt that having so many pray for our beginning helped heighten our awareness and bring us precisely who we needed. Most importantly, each and every person was instantly seen for who they are, not how they struggle. They were not a diagnosis, and there was so much teamwork evident without an ounce of coaching. If one weren't really tuned in, they would sometimes wonder who was someone who struggled and who was someone who didn't as much. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
The viral nature of our story on social media and traditional media was astonishing, and we had thousands upon thousands of views and shares, comments and clicks. We were featured in online news magazines, local tv news, our local paper and a huge write up in the paper an hour away in Grand Junction, the radio station, and more. Here are a few links for those interested:
I am truly very uncomfortable with being interviewed, either live or in print, and it shows, but I hope our passion came through and that I didn't come off as too dorky. I also realized I struggle to let go of the narrative and trust others to share appropriately, for I am protective of our little crew and don't want this viewed as anything other than it is...an opportunity for growth, a collaborative effort, and though the truth is we hire those with special needs, that is the end of it. They are then productive, capable employees learning new skills, trying as hard as everyone else does to be a good employee and serve customers well. This isn't a Pity Hire situation, and I want that respected. This is simply a recognition that not everyone can succeed in the same style and setting of work place as is usually found, and some folks need more direction and some adaptation in order to be successful. We ALL see how once someone is allowed to fail without fear, they will indeed try over and over and eventually master a task. We just allow more space for that to happen, but we have the same expectations other employers have...show up on time, work hard, do your best, be respectful, etc.
All along, we had been aware of how employment might really make a difference for some people, but what we missed, and what stood out for me the most over the hectic weekend was the incredible power of having families with kids who have disabilities come in to be served, and how deeply some would be impacted. A grandma and mom of two young boys with autism came in, and I didn't know this prior to meeting them, but grandma asked if I was the owner and I said I was, and she teared up and couldn't speak. She tried twice and simply couldn't. I leaned over and just hugged her, holding her tightly, until she could find the words to explain. She and the mom said this place helped them see that their beloved boys might have a future after all. I was tickled when I heard that the older son was clearly aware of his challenges and unabashedly pointed to one of us over the counter and said, "I have a disability just like YOU! And some day I am going to work at Buckaroos!!" Talk about grabbing your heart!
Over and over, my soul was stirred with humble gratitude to know that what we are doing might change the perspective of many in our community. A homeschooling mom of four, one with high functioning autism, also teared up and it was terribly important to her that I hear her out as she shared that our family and this business are literally giving her hope for her son, and that some days that hope is so hard to hold on to. Man, don't I know that myself. Another long hug, and a knowing nod. A young hearing impaired girl lit up with an enormous grin as I offered to have her and her friends come for a special day of learning how to make pizza. In the midst of a very busy period, I was profoundly touched to approach one of our three tiny tables and ask if they were pleased, and a much older woman with an unspecified disability who was non-verbal and possibly blind was there with her caretaker. She was communicating the best she could, when I spoke with her, and she pulled me in, then gently kissed me on the cheek. Hard not to sob over that one as she then patted my hand, her joy at being "seen" and spoken to normally so evident. An older local adoptive mom of three who had remembered reading about our family years ago came in and sat at one of those three tiny tables later in the evening, when it was slow, and we shared our adoptive mommy hearts and challenges.
Those three tiny tables became our living room, something I just hadn't ever anticipated. Friends joined us with loads of laughter, special friend Raynola and her family and dear friend Laurie showed up and had the girls squealing at the top of their lungs. Raynola taught the girls art for 3 or 4 years for free via Skype and hadn't seen them in person in years, but committed to coming this far because showing up matters more than most of us want to realize, because love is action and sometimes we are lazy. Lots of people were not "lazy in love" and we were overwhelmed to have Candi and Billy show up from so far away, to have over FIFTY people from our church which is an hour away come to our soft opening and ten more or so return for the Grand Opening. An adoptive mommy friend of mine from online who I have known since before Matt came home showed up with her extended family, coming six hours to attend and offer support. Our first customers were our kids' adopted grandparents who have loved on them with TONS of action over the year, and I even saved their first $20 bill from them to hang and frame, because who better to have received their first true sale from?
As we were loving others, we were being faithfully, truly loved on, too.
Our space is so limited, with just those three wood burned tables and some benches outside, but I had forgotten that close proximity breeds relationship. Strangers laughing and visiting with other strangers as they sat around our tight little corner. Many old friends from Montrose showed up and hung around to catch up, to offer their encouragement, to share a scoop or a slice. And the warmth was hanging over all of us, glowing with the knowledge that we are all connected in ways that we can't always name, that strangers are simply new friends in the making, and that the human heart desperately needs those connections, whether hindered by the ability to easily express emotion, by speech issues, or lack of motor skills, we all need community to feel whole.
And new friends we made indeed! Here are a few of the incredibly positive reviews we have received on our Facebook page:
"We just returned from dinner. First off, the staff was so friendly and greeted us upon entering. I loved the homey, bright decor. We custom built our pizza and it came to our table looking and smelling delicious! The sausage and bacon were so good as was the sauce! The slices were thick enough that two slices each was enough for each of us. We saved room for dessert and were not disappointed. Farr’s ice cream is wonderful! Great choice! We will definitely be back!"
"Not only is the food great but the staff is incredibly friendly this place is a shining beacon for for all abilities we will be back often!!!!"
"Great food, great teamwork, fun atmosphere! Everything about this place is amazing. The team did an awesome job with the soft opening, very friendly staff!
We will definitely make Buckaroos a regular stop for our family!"
"Amazing! Staff was very friendly and helpful. the pizza was ohhh so good and the ice cream is amazing! Warm, welcoming environment with lots of smiles and laughs."
This place is where awesome people are making a difference in the world. The pizza has an amazing s"auce and there are a wide variety of toppings available. This is a happy family restaurant. 👍"
"What a wonderful idea!!! Great pizza BEST ICE CREAM! Farrs from Utah!! Yummo!! And the staff all wonderful!!!! I can totally see them expanding quickly all over Colorado and other states!! What a great concept and flawless execution! Congrats to all those who put their heart and soul into this! You have a customer for LIFE!!"
"This place ROCKS!!! I was so impressed with how smooth everything seemed to be running considering it was their “soft opening!” I love everything about it. I loved the teamwork that I saw when my family and I were there. I love what this business stands for and I LOVED the pizza. It was amazing and the crust was soooo good. I’m so excited for Buckaroos and I pray blessing upon blessing for this whole establishment. We will definitely be back!!!"
Sitting here after the extremely busy weekend, resting my feet and legs after multiple 16 hour days, I am taking a moment to reflect back over the course of the past year. What a hard, painful, difficult year it has been for me personally. SO much happened alongside the planning for Buckaroos, and at times I wanted to cry it was so overwhelming. I ended up sobbing in church this weekend after one of our dear friends got up and spoke from the heart about how our family has touched his life, and the life of our church. I totally lost it. His words meant so much to me, probably because it HAS been so hard, and yet somehow we have made it, and still love one another, and God is using us to provide a sacred space in the form of a little pizzeria to offer meaning and purpose. All any of the seven of us want is to be "that place" for others, and we accomplished it. Matt and Josh have helped so much, and filled in with emergency runs to Sam's Club an hour away, a reassuring shoulder to lean on, and much needed valuable labor.
From concept to business plan to marketing plan to VERY arduous physical work, we arrived at the finish line, only to see new horizons to race toward. I kid you not, we had finished our first day when Kenny told me he had an idea to expand to a cleaning business to partner those with disabilities with others to clean houses and offices, and Olesya already has our game plan in mind to "move across state lines". Hahaha! So who is it that taught these kids to dream such big dreams???
There are many more who need employment and will struggle to find a safe place to learn. We already have 4 or 5 applications from people who want to work, who we simply don't have enough work for...yet. Maybe God will continue to do something extraordinary here, using the Family God Built to do so, along with all those who love and encourage this crazy clan of ours. Maybe there is more in the future, but for now we are all praying for continued increasing numbers of visitors so that we can make it. We know we can't do it alone, and never have done anything alone.
As we gather round those three tiny tables, as we offer hugs and smiles and hope, I am reminded over and over again that this is NOT about us, this is not about the LaJoys, it is bigger, it is more important by far than we seven. Singing in choir this Sunday, so bleary eyed and physically worn out, I was so moved by the lyrics of the chosen song, Love Grows Here. The sermon and music aligned so beautifully with what we have tried to accomplish, and hopefully will continue to offer others. May we never, ever forget...
Love Grows Here
By Nancy Price
Take a look around you
Tell me what you see
People here to worship the Lord
Just like you and me
Some have come in gladness
Some have come with fear
But all have come because they know that love grows here
Yes, love grows here
And all of us can share
the wonder and joy that it can bring
For God is near
Teaching us to care
And showing our hearts
How to sing
Some of us are lonely
Some have many friends
Some lives just beginning
Some are near the end
Yet we come together
Knowing he is near
Love from our Pizza Guy...