A local mom is starting a candy company to create “Sweet Possibilities” through competitive employment for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Jen Connelly has worked with individuals with special needs her whole life. Her older brother struggled with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and Tourette Syndrome, both of which resulted in unwanted attention.
“Having him as my sibling drove me to the profession that I have done for my career,” Connelly told NewCanaanite.com on a recent afternoon.
She has experience as a special education teacher, a behavioral analyst, and even opened a charter school in the South Bronx designed to serve individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Connelly observed that while many of the kids she served moved through adolescence and adulthood being exposed to internships and job sampling, they were unable to find work.
“There just aren’t enough opportunities,” she said. “When I look at the adults that I worked with when they were little, they are so well prepared to contribute and have a job, but the opportunity is lacking.”
To change this, Connelly set out to create opportunities for employment for every type of learner, particularly those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Her brainchild, New Canaan Candy Company, offers a chance, and choice, for work to individuals of any and every ability. They provide custom-made candy creations, put together by people of all different abilities, and delivered right to customers’ doors.
“I’m in a unique position to be able to customize what work flows look like, so that everyone can do it,” Connelly said. “Regardless of how you learn, or what your skill strengths are, there’s something that you can successfully be doing in this company.”
She also emphasized the business would be an inclusive model that promotes coexistence as peers, with about 70% of employees being individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities working alongside others.
“It’s important to me that people coexist at different levels and roles, and learn from each other,” she said.
Connelly hopes her business will create opportunities for additional tolerance and acceptance within the New Canaan community as well.
“Candy, in particular, is something that is really attractive to littles [kids],” she said. “When you put people with disabilities, or any type of difference, with little kids, in a positive environment, you set the occasion for building a foundation of understanding and respect.”
Currently, the New Canaan Candy Company is partnered with the “LAUNCH” program, a New Canaan High School-affiliated transition program for 18- to 21-year-old students with special needs as they transition into the community.
Moving forward, Connelly said she hopes to expand to working with local businesses such as toy, book, cheese, wine, and coffee shops. She is seeking partnerships to create gift baskets combining their merchandise with candy packages to sell. Connelly also has thought of providing “welcome home gifts” in collaboration with real estate organizations at the closing of a house.
“This collaborative piece [would show how] we support local businesses, we support differences among us, and value community, ” she said.
Connelly looks forward to expanding New Canaan Candy Co., generating more sales and even opening a storefront at some point.
“When you’re starting a small business, you’re your only cheerleader…there’s just so much potential to give up, but when I get to interact with people from STAR, or the Launch program, those opportunities fill my bucket and then remind me why I’m doing this.”
New Canaan Candy Company can be found on Instagram.