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My Story: Everyone Can Learn and Become Independent
Kristen Bean is a PhD student in the School of Social Work through the ASU College of Public Programs. Kristen and her team (community members Jolene De Tiege and Michael Cline) recently were awarded a $2,000 Challenges Innovator grant for their Sweet Inde Bakery proposal. The Challenges Innovator competition is part of the ASU Innovation Challenge, a set of four competitions that provide seed-funding for students to engage in innovative projects and/or develop new ventures.
As a child, I often sat at the dinner table and listened to my mother, a special education teacher, talk excitedly about how her students overcame unfathomable barriers. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my mother’s stories of challenging her students to overcome difficulties shaped my ambitions to become an advocate and develop a nonprofit organization for people with disabilities. Both my mother and I firmly believe that everyone can learn.
I started working with people with disabilities in a group home when I was 17. I quickly learned that my belief in peoples’ ability to learn was actually quite uncommon. Although the manager of the group home explained that group homes are structured to teach residents how to live independently, most residents never make this transition. In fact, the group home staff did not teach residents how to do much of anything. Later, as a social worker, I went against the grain and challenged the residents I worked with to learn how to cook dinner, do their own laundry, and make decisions about where they wished to work.
Not everyone agreed with my ideas. When I attempted to teach people with disabilities life skills, some would get upset, and many could not understand my seemingly odd behavior. My supervisor once criticized me for allowing people with disabilities to make choices for themselves.
Despite challenges, I continued to advocate for people with disabilities and worked to better understand their unique circumstances. One major obstacle that people with disabilities face in becoming independent is their frequent employment in jobs that pay subminimum wages (which is legal based on the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1986). People with disabilities are often paid as low as $1 per hour and frequently work in secluded workshops alongside other people with disabilities; they are isolated from their communities, versus integrated into the creation of public good.
I decided to start Sweet Inde Bakery (short for sweet independence) because people with disabilities are valuable assets to the community; they are also human beings who should be paid living wages and who are capable of living physically and economically independent.
The concept of Sweet Inde Bakery is the creation of a non-profit bakery that will provide job training and experience to people with disabilities. People will bake goods at the Phoenix Disability Empowerment Center and sell them locally. The proceeds from baked goods sales will be returned to people with disabilities through scholarships and grants. Grant recipients will be able to spend the funding on continuing education, starting their own entrepreneurial idea, and other venues that would support them becoming not only physically independent, but economically independent as well.
As a first-year PhD student in the School of Social Work at ASU, I felt confident I had a great idea, and I had been researching and writing about people with disabilities, so I knew my topic area well; at the same time, I was unsure of how to get my idea off the ground. I started by emailing community organizations that provide services or advocate for people with disabilities. I learned that job opportunities for people with disabilities are in great need in the Phoenix area, which is not surprising since only 46.3% of working age people with disabilities compared with 80% of people without disabilities are employed nationally (see footnote 1). Through outreach, I connected with Jolene De Tiege, who eagerly offered her support in the Sweet Inde Bakery venture:
“As a teenager I was involved in a job training and internship program that helped me and my peers enter the workforce and contribute within our community. We were a group of teenagers and young adults, all with different disabilities...or abilities, rather, and we were taught valuable skills that helped us in many areas of our lives. I am inspired to be a part of Sweet Inde, because I myself live with a disability, a form of Muscular Dystrophy, and I use a wheelchair due to this. I know how beneficial Sweet Inde will be to our community, by being inclusionary of people with and without disabilities. It will also promote awareness to our community and beyond to focus on the abilities of all people...and not their "disability".”
Michael Cline, a local television producer and editor, also offered his overwhelming support in helping to market Sweet Inde Bakery. Jolene De Tiege, Michael Cline, and I collaborated to apply for two grants that are part of the ASU Innovation Challenge. The Challenge inspired us to think broadly and creatively about what we could do if we had funding.
With our interdisciplinary team and the support from community organizations, the Arizona Youth Action Council, Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, and the Disability Empowerment Center, Sweet Inde Bakery will launch with twenty volunteers in the summer of 2010. Once Sweet Inde Bakery develops to the point of establishing a revenue model, we have plans to employ and support fifty people with disabilities annually.
A bakery is only the beginning. Our long-term goals are to expand our concept to an umbrella non-profit organization that will include three programs: Sweet Inde Bakery, Sweet Inde Scholarships, and an annual disability pride parade to bolster community awareness. Our organization will start in Phoenix, Arizona, but will expand to other states.
Look for Sweet Inde Bakery at First Fridays in downtown Phoenix as well as farmers markets near you, buy a cupcake, and donate to the Sweet Inde Bakery mission: to bolster the independence of people with disabilities. Or, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out how you can be a part of our efforts!
If you have a dream that can change your community or the world, don’t be afraid to talk to your community about it; you will be surprised by how many people will help you to make it come true.
Footnote 1. Schur, L. (2002). The difference a job makes: the effects of employment among people with disabilities. Journal of Economic Issues, 36(2), 339-347.
Submitted by Kristen Bean, PhD student in the School of Social Work.