NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A mother's bakery created to give her daughter with special needs a stable job after she left high school is set to expand to employ more adults with special needs.
"A lot of families call it falling off the cliff," explained mother and SweetAbility Bakery founder Chelle Baldwin. "A lot of families find themselves, you know, just looking at each other. What do we do now?"
That season happens for many families of adults with special needs when their child leaves high school.
"You basically go from services for your child, whether it be speech, OT, you know, multiple therapies are available through the school system. And then obviously, they're getting an education while they're in the school system... But once they do age out of the system, it's hard because even with the education and all the work that they've done over the years gaining skills, it's still hard to find employment in places it's hard to find an employer that will give them a chance," said Baldwin.
Her 19-year-old daughter Rosie was diagnosed with Apraxia of speech and Baldwin knew her daughter would need a safe environment to work in after she left high school.
"I turned what was a hobby at the time, baking, I was doing extreme cakes, and I turned it into an actual business with the goal of by the time she got out of high school that you know we would have a business that she would have a safe place to work in that she could have fun, create and just you know, have some purpose," Baldwin said.
The business name SweetAbility Bakery was very intentional.
"I wanted to focus on ability because often when you're discussing people with disabilities, people want to focus on what they can't do and not what they can. So, I'm all about ability. What can you do?" explained Baldwin.
The mother-daughter duo baked together before the business began.
"When Rosie got her diagnosis of intellectual disability, and we found out the challenges for finding the job, keeping the job, and then the risk of predators for females who have her diagnosis, I wanted to provide a safe place for her to work in a place that I knew that she would be happy at and have fun and just enjoy," explained Baldwin. "So turn it — the hobby business — into... the real thing. So we've just been working to grow it."
In 2018, SweetAbility started working with an online farmers' market, Market Wagon, that delivers to a 20-county region of Middle Tennessee and Kentucky (Bowling Green area).
"That was a godsend because that allowed us to do it in a multitude of ways. It cut down on our time as far as you don't have to go and set up a tent and then stay there for four to five hours hoping that somebody comes by to buy your cupcakes," stated Baldwin.
"We were able to expand our market a lot because, at that point, I'm doing all custom orders that we get. We get, you know, ‘can I get a birthday cake’ and then you don't hear from the person for another six months to a year because they don't order another birthday cake... so this is a reoccurring order that you can count on that you're gonna get a certain amount and you know exactly how many so you're not losing money on your products," she explained. "So it's awesome."
The online market allowed the business to grow while Rosie was still in school. With her end of high school approaching in the spring of 2023, the business is set to expand and hire more adults like Rosie.
"We're going to get this commercial space open. So we can start hiring other people with disabilities and grow the business and make it a success," said Baldwin. "It will be also a shared commercial kitchen. So not only will SweetAbility be able to work out of that kitchen, we will have other food makers be able to come in they could rent by the hour they can rent the month long-term lease, whatever works for them. So we want to have a fun space and my side hope is that as people come in and start renting, that maybe they see my business model be like, 'Maybe I can, you know, employ some of these people,' and just kind of grow it that way."
Plans for the brick-and-mortar are set to be public later in 2023.
Baldwin said she knows it is not easy for businesses to adapt to employ those with special needs as it often takes hiring someone who can help those employees with specific tasks, but she encouraged others to try because the payback comes every day.
"I wish that people would maybe slow down to give her [and people like her] a chance to say what she's wanting so that she can connect with them. Because time with her, anybody who has ever given her that opportunity, that time, will tell you time with Rosie is precious," said Baldwin.
To read more about SweetAbility Bakery or to order from them through Market Wagon, visit the website.
To inquire about a job at the Sweet Ability Bakery, email Baldwin: firstname.lastname@example.org.