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ESP Athens Snack Stand offers community concessions for a good cause

Article written by Andrew Shearer and published by the Athens Banner-Herald

Anyone with experience taking kids to a park knows that getting them to leave isn't always the easiest of tasks, even if it's just to make a quick run to a nearby convenience store for refreshments. With that in mind, Watkinsville-based nonprofit Extra Special People, Inc. (ESP) has expanded their concession offerings by creating the Snack Stand at their 189 VFW Dr. campus, which features the Miracle League Playground.

Open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the Snack Stand is an extension of ESP's continued partnership with Golden Pantry, an Athens-based chain of food stores. TheBanner-Herald stopped by last week to see what was on the menu, and to speak with ESP Athens Executive Director Craig Portwood about how community input will inform what the Snack Stand serves.

As with ESP's Java Joy coffee shop at the Piedmont Oconee Health Campus, the Snack Stand is staffed by Joyristas, people with disabilities, and their supporters. Portwood told the Banner-Herald that concession sales go towards ESP in a variety of ways, including putting money in the pockets of the friendly, dedicated and enthusiastic Joyristas who take customer orders, prepare food, and supervise the inventory.

"We will not charge your family more than 25% of what it actually costs to run the (Snack Stand) program, and the goal is to make it as affordable as possible," said Portwood. (The Joyristas) are all paid employees here as they're working, which also gives them leadership development opportunities. We're always investing in them and trying to figure out how we can help them grow and develop more skills."

Hot or iced Java Joy coffee is part of the menu at the Snack Stand, as well as hot chocolate, soda, juice boxes, lemonade, and bottled water. Hot dogs and chips were available during the Banner-Herald's visit, along with granola bars and peanuts. For guests with a sweet tooth, the Snack Stand carries a variety of Golden Pantry's packaged candy, ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, and small containers of Alumni Cookie Dough. Our order of one hot dog, Hot Fries, Twix and a bottle of Gatorade was only $9.

Founded by Martha Wiley in 1986 as a summer camp for people with disabilities, ESP is an all-ages facility that is focused on community accessibility and creating transformative experiences for families. With Java Joy and the Snack Stand, Portwood said that the staff has"flipped the script" by creating those same experiences for those who choose ESP's spaces to get a drink or have a bite to eat.

"We've only been open for a few days, but we want the Snack Stand to be a place where guests can also feel free to make suggestions about things they'd like to see on the menu," said Portwood. "Along with our partners at Golden Pantry and all that the city of Watkinsville has made possible through our playground, we welcome everyone to be a part of what we're doing here."

For a closer look at the Snack Stand menu,

To learn more about the programs and facilities at ESP Athens, visit


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