On The Shore On The shore — 01 December 2012
Lighting way for special needs young adults

Walking away from Jessica Schmidt without a smile on your face would be tough.

“Hi! How are you? I’m Jessica. You look wonderful,” she says, smiling warmly and reaching out her hand to greet a visitor.

Walking away from her new Coral Springs store without a few of her ScentsAbility soy candles would be equally tough.

Jessica, 29, and some of her friends – all of whom have intellectual disabilities – hand-pour, custom-label and sell the candles to individuals, businesses and groups holding events, such as wedding receptions and charity fundraisers (they donate 50 percent of the sale back to the charities).

Bonnie Schmidt and her husband, John Becker, started the business in 2008, after Jessica aged out of public school services. A grant from the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation helped them buy supplies for the micro-enterprise.

“We soon realized that there are many other individuals with intellectual disabilities who are out of options and wasting their unique talents,” Schmidt says.

The couple, who own Coral Springs Software, developed a system that enabled Jessica and eight of her friends to make the scented candles in their home. They created programs that help the young adults make sales and keep track of inventory. Jessica and her co-workers, aided by dedicated volunteers, have sold the candles by special order and at craft fairs, and now from their own store. The 1,200-square-foot ScentsAbility Candles, featuring a showroom and workshop, was expected to open Thanksgiving week.

Plans include setting up a class area to teach their retail curriculum, currently in development, to other young adults with special needs. They are also developing a franchise package, but their higher purpose is to help Jessica and other differently abled adults become active, productive members of society.

“The long-term goal – within three years – is to create a village where they can live and work together in a safe, clean environment,” Schmidt says. “We’re lighting the path to independence … one candle at a time.”

— Elizabeth Rahe

ScentsAbility Candles, 11480 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs, 954-234-4405, www.ScentsAbility.org.

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