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Young business owner breaking down barriers for workers with disabilities

collettys cookies
Posted at 10:21 AM, Nov 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-17 14:52:43-05

BOSTON, Mass. — Collette DiVitto was in high school when she first discovered that baking was a way to empower herself and push back against the bullies who often picked on her and teased her for being different.

She was born with Down syndrome, but she has never seen that as a barrier to reaching her goals.

“I loved baking since I was 4 years old,” Collette explained.

These days, her love for baking and cookies has become quite a paradox of sorts. Collette is now the CEO of Collettey’s Cookies, a company that produces about 80,000 cookies each day and has made well over $1.2 million since it was first launched in 2016.

But Collette has spent so much of her life around cookies that she jokingly admits she now prefers ice cream as her go-to sweet.

“I have been around cookies every single day,” the 31-year-old business owner explained.

Her passion for cookies though has helped countless other people with disabilities find jobs. Collettey’s Cookies employs 15 people, many of whom have a disability.

“They are part of a team. We are part of one happy family,” Collette said.

These days, her ambitions reach far beyond the walls of her kitchen in Boston, Massachusetts. Having been discriminated against multiple times while looking for jobs, Collette with the help of her mom, Rosemary Alfredo, is making it her mission to help lower barriers to employment for Americans with a disability.

“It’s the biggest problem for families is they’re working so hard to mainstream themselves and when they get to a certain age they can’t find a job and can’t live independently,” Alfredo explained.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2021 only 19.1% of people with a disability were employed. Part of this mother-daughter duo’s push is to also get equal pay for workers who have a disability. Under section 14( c) of the Fair Labor and Standards Act, employers can pay workers with disabilities special minimum wages, wages “less than the Federal minimum wage,” of $7.25 an hour.

“For both of us … we want to see people paid a fair amount,” Collette’s mom said.

Collette is continuing to do her part to inspire others—not just through pushing for change, but through public speaking engagements nationwide. Her hope is to help others reach their goals.

“Love what you do,” she said.