Small Businesses Changing The Future Of Employment for Individuals with IDD

In honor of Special Education Week, I think it's only appropriate to highlight two businesses creating employment opportunities for those with disabilities! I am lucky enough to be close with professionals in this area of healthcare. In my high-school days I volunteered at an occupational therapy clinic where I witnessed the multiple ways therapists worked with patients in speech, mobility and social interaction. There is no doubt in my mind that every human in this world deserves a chance to experience the rewards that come with hard work! 


Photo via Woodside Kitchen Facebook

Photo via Woodside Kitchen Facebook

One of these businesses happens to operate down the street from my family home in Hephzibah, Georgia. Nevin and Karen Strite founded Woodside Kitchen 5 years ago out of their home shortly after learning their youngest son Wade was diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

"We had an eye for the future for him. During that time, we knew a couple who came to our support group who also had a child with Down Syndrome and they talked about how difficult it was to find employment for adults with disabilities. That spurred us on to start this business to eventually hire more people with special needs," Karen says.

Woodside Kitchen produces a large variety of gourmet sauces and dressings which are distributed in Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Florida and other states along the East Coast. 

In the early beginnings, Nevin researched methods to keep sauces from separating and the best machines to install in their warehouse. "For the longest time, we placed the shrink bands on the caps by hand. My son Christopher is the fastest at it!" she says. 

One of their first recipes, "Summer Oregano", was a salad dressing made at Nevin’s sister’s wedding. "Strawberry Poppyseed", "Blueberry Balsamic", "Cucumber Dill", "Roasted Garlic," are also on the most popular items list. While Woodside Kitchen brands their own recipes, businesses requesting wholesale have the option to order customized labels. Founder of PaleoChef, Steve Liberati, offers a range of paleo-approved products, nine of which are made by Woodside and can be found in Whole Foods!

Pictured: Wade Strite

Pictured: Wade Strite

Pictured: Wade Strite

"We’re learning as Wade grows, and we have the experience working with people who have disabilities and we like that," she says with a nod of confidence that Woodside Kitchen has been a blessing to her family.

Follow Woodside Kitchen on Facebook or contact them by phone or email for product information. Their website is currently in the works!

Finally, while visiting with the Strites, Karen and her mother taught me how to make Lefse, a Norwegian Christmas delicacy! You can find a recipe here (closest to the process I experienced) to make it during the holidays and all the season in between! "We began our company with the dream of sharing in the future of a unique group of people whom we love dearly." - per their mission statement


Photo via company website

Photo via company website

It's been a year since the Wright's opened their 500 square foot coffee shop, Bitty & Beau's Coffee in Wilmington, NC. Amy and her husband opened the business in hopes of paving a job future for Bitty and Beau, two of four children diagnose with Down Syndrome. The purpose of the company environment is allow people to experience and embrace diversity and support the job future of disabled individuals. 

Bitty & Beau's has grown from 19 to 40 total employees with IDD and continues to operate out of a now 5,000 square foot shop and headquarters! Be sure to check out this video feature on Southern Living to get the behind the scenes looks at Bitty & Beau's! 

"Bitty & Beau's Coffee creates a culture where diversity is not just appreciated, it's celebrated."- Company mission

You can make a donation to create more jobs through Bitty & Beau's Coffee, sign up for their newsletter, shop their online store or visit them on social media on their website

It's always a plus to hear how small businesses are using their creativity and personal stories to make changes in the world around them! All the more reason to support and shop small. 

AllLibby OellerichComment