The Exceptional Nest creates a safe space for people with disabilities

Members of Art Social Wednesday’s try their hands at painting.
The Exceptional Nest was started to give people with disabilities a way to enjoy the Arts. Provided Photo.

By Christina Korotkov

Sarah Laurie was ready to take her career in a new direction when she decided to start her business The Exceptional Nest.

“I married my love for creating and the arts while still working with people I really loved to work with, which are adults with exceptionalities,” said Laurie, who previously worked as an Autism specialist teacher and has experience working with adults with developmental and intellectual exceptionalities. 

Laurie prefers to use the word ‘exceptionalities’ to describe people who have either physical, developmental, or emotional disabilities. 

“I like the positive spin on it,” she said. 

The Exceptional Nest was created to be a safe space where adults with exceptionalities may come together to socialize, but also to create. 

‘Art Social Wednesdays’ is one of the series that The Exceptional Nest hosts at Equator Coffee in Westboro. Participants are led by Laurie to create a piece of art. 

“We use a different art medium every week,” she said, listing sketching, mirrors, pastels and still life watercolour as a few examples.

Bailey Cherry, marketing and outreach coordinator at Equator Coffee, has known Laurie through the coffee shop for about six years.

Members of art social Wednesday’s sit inside Equator and pose for a photograph.
Art Social Wednesday’s is all about creating community. Provided Photo.

“Equator’s mission as a whole is people over profit,” said Cherry. “We are continually looking for ways to do better by people, to invest in the community, and to be able to give back where we can.”  

According to Cherry, community outreach is a big part of Equator’s B Corp certification, encouraging businesses to do better globally, including fair trade and organic.

‘Art Social Wednesdays’ fell into this criteria. 

“We do what we can, when we can,” she said about donating space for ‘Art Social Wednesdays’. “It is a good way to invest in her [Laurie] and invest in a pretty cool dream and vision she had.” 

When Laurie got the go-ahead that she would have access to the space, she felt like her dreams were coming true.

“I get to provide a wonderful program for adults with exceptionalities to gather and meet like-minded people and learn to socialize again, post COVID,” said Laurie. “That’s what I’m hearing from a lot of parents and caregivers, that they really lack a safe space to come and feel themselves, to feel accepted.”

Sarah poses for a photograph outside Equator Coffee in Westboro.
Sarah Laurie started The Exceptional Test to provide a safe space for rare opportunities. Photo by Christina Korotkov

Louise McGoey’s son, James McCallum, 35, participates in ‘Art Social Wednesdays’. 

McCallum is a Special Olympian who has Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has a passion for being active and especially loves art.

He was very excited to learn he would be a part of the Westboro-based arts program. 

“He knows Wednesday is art, so he’ll talk about art class,” said McGoey. “James thrives on being very, very active and doing a lot of things. He likes to have things to look forward to every single day.”

Wednesday’s are a busy time for McCallum who also attends another program on the same day. 

“I wondered if it might be a little too much for him, but it’s very relaxed and stress free,” McGoey said. “He really enjoys it. It fulfills a sensory need. It helps him.” 

People on the autism spectrum have high sensory needs, meaning they may need more or less sensory stimulation than someone who does not have autism. 

“People with special needs have many of the same needs we do,” said McGoey. “They thrive on having a purpose. They thrive on having friends and a social life. But it’s more challenging for them. So having people like Sarah who create opportunities for them to do that is really, really important.”

“I get to do something that I love,” said Laurie. “It’s just so fun to get to know these wonderful humans. I really love hearing how they integrate life.”

‘Art Social Wednesdays’ is planning on having an open showcase at the end of each series where the community is welcome to tour the art made by participants.

For more information contact Sarah Laurie at

The exterior of Equator Coffee in Westboro.
Equator Coffee hosts art classes for people with disabilities. Photo by Charlie Senack

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