Parents of 11 Open Coffee Shop to Give Foster Kids Jobs: 'They're Just Badass Baristas' (Exclusive)

"We have some of the best employees in town," Ryan Senters tells PEOPLE

<p>Courtesy of Laura Baumgartner</p> Ryan and Sarah Senters with some of their kids at their daughter Pima Johnson

Courtesy of Laura Baumgartner

Ryan and Sarah Senters with some of their kids at their daughter Pima Johnson's wedding in November.

Arizona parents of 11 have a unique coffee shop that helps kids who are struggling as they age out of the foster care system.

Ryan and Sara Senters, who adopted nine of their children, created the Laveen-based restaurant and coffee shop Hānai in 2022, years after they launched their own social services agency, which currently serves about 500 kids.

Ryan tells PEOPLE inspiration struck after he noticed that some of the older kids they were working with were struggling with mental health issues, including one of his sons. “How could we create a system and a place that would help support him and our other kids to be able to be successful?" he recalls thinking.

"We have some of the best employees in town," he adds of the foster kids who work there. "They're just badass baristas."

Related: Woman Finds Biological Mom 50 Years After Being Placed for Adoption

The couple, who have been married for 17 years, met after working at the same after-school program while attending Northern Arizona University.

From the beginning, helping children in the foster care system has been a shared passion. They became foster parents for the first time after welcoming their first child and have been fostering for 15 years now.

<p>Courtesy of Laura Baumgartner</p> Ryan and Sara Senters

Courtesy of Laura Baumgartner

Ryan and Sara Senters

Pima Johnson, one of their adult children, had already moved around six foster group homes when she met Ryan at the age of 14.

“He just randomly walked into my foster home, and was like, ‘Hey, I'm Ryan,’” Johnson, now 25, tells PEOPLE.

They quickly got to talking and Ryan invited her to dinner with his wife and their then-four young children. “I fell in love with the kids faster than I fell for them," she admits.

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When Johnson was 16, the family adopted her.

During dinner, Johnson says Ryan sat her down at the table, a sign that he was up to "something." Then he asked, "'How would you like to stay here?’" she recalls. "And I was like, ‘Just for the summer?’" Instead, he said he meant "forever."

Now married and with a toddler, Johnson says the way she's been embraced has helped her see how "blessed" she is and truly "love my life."

Related: Mom Who Needed Help Paying for Her Daughter's Adoption Opens Store to Pass That Same 'Blessing' to Others

In 2016, they decided to launch their agency, Ohana, which means “family” in Hawaiian and pays homage to Disney's Lilo & Stitch — the family even playfully refers to one of their sons as Stitch because he can be a real wild child.

“We didn't think we could have any more kids in our own home, but we wanted to be able to provide a home and a family-like environment for these kids,” he says. Today, they have about 45 homes all around Arizona.

Hawaiian culture also inspired the name of their restaurant Hānai, which means “informal adoption” or chosen family. According to the restaurant's website, "A person’s extended family, neighbor, or village is known as their Hãnai and steps in the gap for a child in need." It's that very need to step in that's continued to push the Senters.

<p>Courtesy of Laura Baumgartner</p> Hānai in Laveen, Arizona.

Courtesy of Laura Baumgartner

Hānai in Laveen, Arizona.

“We train kids in the foster care system,” he explains. “We do work programs with them, help them learn social skills, and how to make eye contact and all the basics. Then help support them to be able to hold a job and do a good job."

Additionally, a portion of the proceeds go towards "foster youth who are looking for their forever homes," according to the restaurant.

Related: 4-Year-Old Celebrates His Adoption and New Baby Sister in Sweet Photo: 'He Was So Happy That Day!'

Mateja Andre was one of those baristas in need. The now 19-year-old tells PEOPLE that she was adopted at 10 months old, but after her mom decided her home was no longer “a good option," Andre was put back into the foster care system at 17 and placed with Ohana.

Soon, she got a job at Hānai — and Andre says that when she interviewed to join the "brew crew," they "didn't know that I was from Ohana, which was pretty cool."

And ultimately, it was more than just a place to work.

"It gave me somewhere where I felt like I was needed, somewhere where I could really just distract myself but also learn how to budget when you did make money, things like that, how to do that," Andre says. "So it was really helpful in that sense and really shaped how I do things now."

<p>Courtesy of Ryan Senters</p> Mateja Andre with her husband Ty and their baby Emersyn.

Courtesy of Ryan Senters

Mateja Andre with her husband Ty and their baby Emersyn.

In fact, she attributes her experience with helping shape the trajectory of the rest of her life.

"I have a daughter now, and I'm married, and we just bought our first house," she adds. "I am very excited."

Related: Couple Who Welcomed Twins via Embryo Adoption Celebrates Their First Christmas at Home (Exclusive)

Ryan says Andre's story shows how foster kids' pasts don't "define them."

Ultimately, although their line of work isn't without its challenges, being able to see the hope they help provide kids makes everything "very much worth it," says Sarah.

Adds Ryan, "it's been a great adventure" that's somehow even "more meaningful than I imagined."

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