Long ago, when Marcy was just diagnosed with autism, I worked at a family run bakery. Best job of my life! The family who owned the bakery also had a daughter with a disability. I saw how they were creating a position within their business for her. When the time came, she could be part of the family business and have the opportunity to experience the pride and satisfaction of being a productive member of society. Brilliant!
As the years went by I thought about this a lot. What could I do that would engage Marcy and play to her strengths? She loves color, organization and water - baths, showers, pools, lakes - all water. There were a few ah-ha moments that made this business start to come into focus.
Marcy has OCD and one of the things she is compelled to do is to use a full bar of soap every time she bathes. She used to refuse to get out of the tub or the shower even when the water was cold, until the bar was completely gone. She would be shivering and lathering - determined to use up the bar. It was awful. I tried a bunch of things - smaller soap, sisel soap bags - nothing got rid of the compulsion. My research led me to felted soap. I taught myself how to felt soap and gave it a try. Sure enough - it worked! Since Marcy could not see the bar, she no longer was obsessed with using it up. It became a non issue!
Second ah-ha moment: We had just renovated our bathroom upstairs. For the next year, people gave us bath gifts, as we now had a great tub to soak in. We got a lot of bath bombs as gifts. They smelled wonderful and I looked forward to trying them, but Marcy would constantly use them up before I had a chance. I soon realized I would have to learn to make bath bombs if I hoped to ever try one!
I have been making bath products for about four years now. We recently dug out our basement and built a soaping studio. I am going through the building years of this business while working full time in medical education. My plan is to reach a point with the soap where I can make a break from my full time gig. This is a few years off, but is becoming clearer all of the time.
My goal is to provide working opportunities for Marcy and others with similar disabilities. This population has a lot of qualities that lend themselves to be excellent soapers (saponists to be technical). Many autistic people are organized, focused on detail, enjoy working with their hands, like working in a quiet, contained environment. I make my products bright, fun and full of surprises, because this is what Marcy is to me.
I saw an inspirational interview with a factory owner who hires impoverished men off the streets to work for him - no resumes,no background checks, no interviews. The business has been very successful. Something he said stuck with me - " I don't hire men to make brownies, I make brownies to hire men". Eureka! Substitute soap and this is my mission in a nutshell.
My goal is not to hire people to make soap, rather to make soap to employ people with disabilities. I am not there yet, but I am laying all of the groundwork so that we can hit the ground running when the right time comes.
Berwyn is my community - a working class town 10 miles from Sears Tower in Chicago. Berwyn is the community I will hire from.
Thanks for taking the time to read my long winded story. I love my journey and look forward to the twists and turns yet to come.
- Stephanie a.k.a Berwyn Betty
Berwyn Betty's Bath & Body, Ltd.
2347 Clarence Avenue
Berwyn, Illinois 60402