Jessica at her ScentsAbility Candle ShopJessica is a thirty-something young adult with developmental disabilities that keep her perpetually a little kid in heart and mind.  As delightful and filled with love as Jessica is, the drawback is that she requires someone by her side almost all the time.  However, she, like other individuals with special needs, has the desire and capability to excel at things she is involved in.  The ScentsAbility story is about how her mom came up with the idea for a company that could employ Jessica and other individuals like her.  Jessica may have stopped developing in some mental areas but she is totally capable at developing certain skills and putting her incredible drive to work. The challenge was to find the right fit of people, tasks and environment to allow Jessica to shine.

For years, her mom, Bonnie, struggled to figure out how Jessica and others with developmental disabilities could find “real” jobs that not only could help each support themselves financially, but also provide a sense of pride, accomplishment and camaraderie each and every day. Bonnie knew that Jessica could be most effective where a process could be broken down into separate steps that she could focus on one at a time. She also believed it was important to produce a simple, finished product that Jessica could start and finish, so that she knew what she was working towards – and could be proud of completing. Many ideas failed for one reason or another – too involved of a process; too expensive; too dangerous.

The answer came unexpectedly, one holiday season. Jessica wanted to give her mom a present and said she wanted to get candles – knowing how much the family loved them. Jessica loved candles; they made the house smell wonderful and looked so pretty when they were lit. Watching Jessica stare at the candles every night Bonnie decided she could teach Jessica to make her own candles. They bought a kit and Jessica loved the entire experience.  Bonnie realized this could be the answer as they started to think about candles as a business.  Jessica and her friends could make their own beautiful candles, add scents, colors and packaging, and sell them. They built a small workshop in the spare room of their home and wrote a business plan which they presented to Vocational Rehabilitation Services of Broward County, Florida.  Bonnie and Jessica’s counselor loved the idea and submitted the application for a small micro-business grant.  They got approved and their dream began to take form.  They would sell their candles at craft fairs and try to sell them to small stores. Jessica started inviting her friends to make candles and before long they had a growing business. Unknowingly, Jessica’s desire to give a candle as a present turned out to be a real gift for her and others with developmental disabilities – it gave life to ScentsAbility.

From the beginning, Jessica took her commitment very seriously. She tirelessly worked with her mom to test different waxes, pourers, wicks, scents, labels and other materials to determine the most effective process.  The intent was to enable Jessica and the others to work independently, efficiently and safely.  Jessica quickly mastered the techniques of pouring and wicking, using the modified equipment, and each day they became more comfortable and skilled in color matching and applying proper amounts and types of scents.  Soon they were ready to start selling.  Jessica’s stepdad designed and built a small kiosk resembling an old peddler’s cart with a sign reading “Jessica’s Candle Shoppe”. When Jessica saw the kiosk filled with her homemade candles, she proudly announced, “This is my candle shop”!

Jessica’s wonder-filled positive attitude, friendly personality, enthusiasm and love for what she is doing have made her a natural salesperson. She loves to interact with the people she meets, and believes that her candles make people happy. She has achieved a level of confidence and competence that Bonnie had only hoped might be possible and Jessica continues to grow with each candle she makes. The same can be said for her enthusiastic co-workers at ScentsAbility.

Nine years later the company is still going strong; but instead of making candles in the house, they have a factory and a small store.  ScentsAbility was approved as a nonprofit organization in 2013 and they have almost 20 young adults in their program.  The company was recently awarded the Platinum Business Award from CareerSource Broward, given a local and state tribute and received a United States Congressional Proclamation that they have proudly framed in their store.  ScentsAbility has also been featured on local broadcast station WPLG’s Heart of South Florida segment.

Here are some thoughts from Bonnie:

“With Jessica’s success, we realized the potential for ScentsAbility to help other families. We began with Jessica’s friends, and are now working on expanding our program to include other schools and organizations that assist those with developmental disabilities. ScentsAbility is not simply a business that sells candles – it is an opportunity to make a difference.

We hope that someday ScentsAbility will be the vehicle that helps hundreds, even thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities become more active, independent, develop discipline, and productive – and be proud of what they can achieve. We are so proud of Jessica and the entire ScentsAbility Team and we are well on our way to fulfilling our mission to “light the path to independence…one candle at a time:”

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