Collette Divitto runs the hugely successful American bakery company, Collettey’s Cookies. The 31-year-old also just so happens to have been born with Down Syndrome.
According to Mencap, 65% of people with learning disabilities want to work, but fewer than 20% of those of working age are currently in employment. But why is that – why are employers still reluctant to offer jobs to people with learning difficulties?
Sadly, this is something Collette is all too familiar with. After graduating from Clemson University in South Carolina, Collette moved to Boston thinking a big city would be full of exciting opportunities for a hard worker like herself. But after interviewing for a number of jobs, she was met with the same old response every time: “It was great to meet you, but at this time we feel you are not a good fit for our company.”
Collette made sure it was their loss as she turned her passion for baking into a business in 2016, and Collettey’s Cookies was born. Her company delivers cookies all across America, and to date, she’s sold over 180,000 cookies, including her signature flavour, The Amazing Cookie: a soft cookie with chocolate chips and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
She also makes and distributes cookies for dogs; employing her mini bulldog Lulu as chief tester.
“I originally took a cooking class at my school just to fill my schedule,” Collette tells Delish UK. “I found out I was pretty good at it and loved it and now I have my own company!
“Thing is, I didn’t even want to take that class – I was nervous that I was not going to be good at it. But I was open to it and found a talent in me that I didn’t know I had. Now I make enough money to support myself.”
Collette has always been business-minded – she used to make cakes, cupcakes and cookies to sell at her school, so the next logical step was to start her own company that allows her to do what she’s great at and loves doing.
“I started my cookie company because I love to bake, it makes me feel good, and I’m very good at it.”
Starting out by simply making cookies in her apartment on a small scale, Collette now owns a commercial kitchen and employs a team of 15 – some with disabilities, and some not – to bake and deliver cookies across the USA.
“I like to blend different people together and for my company to be a diverse environment. I’ve given everybody a great opportunity, and I like to think I’ve also inspired a lot of hope with what I do.
“It’s so important to me and my company to include all different kinds of people with disabilities. I always felt left out, and I never want someone to feel that way.”
Collette has made it her mission to inspire people with disabilities to focus on their abilities as opposed to their disabilities. She’s so keen, in fact, to spread this message, that up until travel restrictions were put into place, Collette was travelling across the USA; sharing her inspiring story, with the ultimate goal being to work with lawmakers to create policies that would increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
“I would like to grow Collette’s Cookies across the world and find new partners in all different locations. This will also create jobs for people with disabilities.
As well as making a difference by creating jobs for people with disabilities with her own company, Collette has also started a leadership programme, which offers mentoring, training and workshops for those looking for work. She designed the programmes herself based on the steps she’s taken to establish the best life possible, with a career, independent living, social life and being a viable person in her community. She is determined to teach empowerment, job readiness, skill-building, vocational training, and even entrepreneurship.
In between helping others to achieve their goals, Collette is working towards another lifelong dream…
“I would like Collette’s Cookies to partner with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!”
Collette’s sister Blake and her mum Rosemary have always been huge supporters of everything she's done. But Rosemary tells us that Collette helps her as much as she helps Collette.
“Collette makes us all work harder and take a good look at ourselves. She has exceeded any expectation I had for her, and I had pretty high ones! By us not seeing her as different or assuming there is a glass ceiling she’d eventually hit has led her to believe that, if she is willing to work hard enough, she can have the life she wants.
“She is my child who hugs me deeply every day and shows me so much love and compassion. She is LOVE to me.”
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