The Rural We: Cherri Sanes
Cherri Sanes and her husband Scott own and run ExtraSpecialTeas, a teahouse in downtown Great Barrington, Mass. that provides habilitation therapies and vocational opportunities for young adults with special needs who would not otherwise be employed. The nonprofit celebrated its one-year anniversary this past April, and in June Sanes accepted an award for being one of the Commonwealth’s Unsung Heroines of 2017. If you’ve never been to the brightly colored Victorian teahouse, stop by the open house on Sept. 22 from 5-7 p.m. to get a glimpse of Sanes’ vision – “a future where everyone belongs.”
I grew up in a small town in Texas, and moved to Dallas for school. I studied business, and ended up in Houston as a legal secretary, where I met my husband Scott. I married him in 1990 and we had a son, Jache, two years later, who had autism. We found out when he was 28 months old and we began lots of medical intervention, including the Son-Rise Program at the Option Institute in Sheffield.
We went back and forth from here to Houston and really fell in love with the Berkshires. We decided to move here in 1999. We built a house in Sheffield about a mile north of the Option Institute, and ran a home-based program with Jache for 12 years. During that time, I trained more than 150 volunteers for the program. Jache attended Mt. Everett High School, in their life skills program for special needs students, until he was 22. When he turned 21, we began looking for what would be the next thing for him.
There weren’t a lot of options here, south of Lee, so we felt there was a real need. I came up with the idea of the teahouse, because tea is such a communal thing. I was trying to think of a way that Jache and others with special needs could be a part of the community. I wanted it to be in Great Barrington because it’s such an open community. Jache and 10 other individuals with various disabilities work here. Everybody has a job, there’s something each person can do.
We work with Tiesta Tea, a Chicago-based company created by young people, millennials, who are always looking to give back. They work locally for the homeless, as well as on a water project internationally, and they’ve been a huge supporter of ours. Their teas are fantastic and flavorful, and of superior quality. They come in brightly colored packages and have fun names, too, which is great because it’s important for us to create a happy place. A lot of times there’s a sterile, clinical environment for people with special needs.
By mid-November we hope to add e-commerce to our website, where we’ll sell tea-infused gluten-free items from our baking program. We use the commercial kitchen at Hevreh, and most are tea-infused, including our signature shortbread, power bars and truffles. We also make tea-infused bath bombs, soaps and candles. Our newest product is Teabones for dogs, which are infused with lavender and chamomile tea.
We’d love to have more participants, as some of our workers are only part-time. In addition to our baking and arts and crafts programs, we started a garden in our courtyard last summer. Our next event will be on Friday, Sept. 22 from 5-7 p.m. We’ll have an open house with samples of our new small plate, light lunch menu, things like tea sandwiches and fruit plates.
We’re just so proud of the project; it really gives people purpose and we’ve changed lives, for Jache and others in the community. The Great Barrington community has welcomed and accepted us. My vision was always community integration and our customers really do seem inspired when they look at the handmade items, and come in to share a conversation.