Destination Desserts Provides 'Sweet' Opportunities for Employing People with Disabilities
David decorates the cupcakes early in the morning to get ready for the day’s sales. Ally hops in the food truck and begins setting up—ten varieties of cupcakes, coffees and lattes, smoothies, pastries, cookies, brownies, and other mouth-watering creations. Tiffany goes out with the truck and fills customer orders. This is a typical day for employees at Destination Desserts; they just happen to have disabilities. In 2012, Kessler Foundation awarded a $500,000 Signature Employment Grant to the Center for Head Injury Services, in St. Louis, Missouri, to establish Destination Desserts—a social enterprise to expand job training and employment opportunities for individuals with brain injury and other cognitive learning disabilities. Following the trend of a mobile unit that brings products directly to customers, Destination Desserts purchased a food truck and decorated it with pictures of their tempting treats. You’ll find the truck parked outside corporate offices at lunch time, local sporting and entertainment events, parks, and other locations where just having something sweet can make someone’s day even brighter. Customers can’t wait to see the truck and get their hands on “some of the best desserts in town.” On the menu, you can find the Rocky Road Cupcake, Need-A-Napkin Brownie, Turtle Cupcake, German Chocolate Cupcake, Wedding Cake Cupcake, Gooey Butter Cookie, Snickerdoodle Cookie, and many others. It doesn’t matter that the people baking and serving the items have disabilities; all that matters is the taste. The taste is so delicious that Destination Desserts has already been asked to make wedding cakes. The enterprise prepares individuals with disabilities for lasting careers in the food industry. Taken from the vocational rehabilitation program at the Center for Head Injury Services, trainees learn about food preparation, sanitation, and safety protocols. They then rotate to different stations to learn the various jobs at Destination Desserts, including mixing ingredients, baking, washing dishes and cleaning, decorating baked goods, taking dessert orders, setting up the truck, and sales. Once their training is complete, they are either hired by Destination Desserts or the Center markets their new skills to other potential employers in the community. Employees with disabilities work side-by-side with those without disabilities and earn equal, market-rate wages. But ask them what they like most about their jobs. Their first response isn’t “making money.” It’s about being a part of something bigger. As Donna Gunning, executive director of the Center, explained, “Employees feel a sense of excitement and pride to be a part of a new venture and are motivated to make it work. As they master new skills, their self-confidence increases and they experience success. Soon, individuals request to learn even more tasks.” David, for example, volunteered in the kitchen of an elder home. Already having some experience, Destination Desserts provided the perfect opportunity and he soon found himself earning his first paycheck. A year later, he continues to be one of the best decorators. Knowing just what frostings need to be handled with extra delicate care, David makes everything beautiful to the eyes and delectable to the taste buds. Ally is one of the most cheerful and outgoing people you will ever meet. She arranges the dessert displays perfectly to make stomachs grumble with hungry anticipation. While Tiffany has difficulty communicating, she fully understands her job tasks and adapts to new challenges. She enjoys selling cupcakes to customers and ensures perfect packaging. Always with a smile, she thanks customers for their business. David, Ally, and Tiffany all have one thing in common—they love their jobs. “Without Kessler Foundation’s funding, guidance, and innovative thinking, we would not have been able to expand into the business we have today or hire more employees,” explained Donna. Kessler Foundation donors were a part of providing opportunities for these wonderful individuals and, in turn, improving their confidence, independence, and self-sufficiency. We look forward to funding more initiatives that expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities and watching them contribute their skills.