BY ALEXIS MCCUTCHAN STAFF WRITER
A bakery and chocolate shop by the name of Cameron’s Chocolates, located in Fairfax Circle Shopping Center, serves up delicious treats with a heartfelt message. Founded in 2013, this bakery strives to create a positive change by hiring disabled individuals as two-thirds of their employees.
“We make chocolate, coffee and baked goods daily. We don’t hire people to make chocolates. We make chocolates to hire people,” said Ellen Graham, co-founder of Cameron’s Chocolates.
“We have 35 employees and about two-thirds of our employees are intellectually disabled. The other third do not have intellectual disabilities but work in parallel with our disabled workers. So we are what’s known as a cooperative environment where we all help each other out,” said Graham.
The inspiration to found a company like Cameron’s Chocolates was sparked by Graham’s daughter, Cameron.
“When I had my daughter Cameron, we determined that she had some challenges, especially in her development. I worked very hard to find ways to help her grow and develop. So my husband and I came up with our own model, and that’s Cameron’s Chocolates,” said Graham.
The development of Cameron’s Chocolates is also important to the customers in the surrounding area. Paul Provance is a regular customer who sees the value in the bakery, not just by its making of delicious sweets, but through its contribution to the community.
“My little group comes every Monday morning or as we can,” said Provance. “Well, it’s good service and always nice little things like muffins and good coffee. And I think we are doing something good for our community by patronizing a very conscientious establishment.”
Some highlights of the menu are the vegan brownies, as well as other allergen-free options, and coffee for a low cost.
By hiring people with disabilities, the business provides them with opportunities to learn new skills and grow in a safe environment. In addition to the skills related to work, Cameron’s Chocolates also teaches its employees “life skills” to help them continuously grow and learn.
“Our workers are broken up into teams. So, we take a local town bus to the grocery stores. We walk to the local laundromat to do our cleaning of rags. We go to the bank to make our deposits, all of the things that include us in the world outside of Cameron’s Chocolates,” said Graham.
Graham also talked about another opportunity for her workers via the Special Olympics, a series of athletic competitions for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“For example, my daughter, in the winter she plays basketball and in the spring she plays softball. I have another worker who competes on the national level for ice skating,” said Graham.
This shows that with the right opportunities and support, people with disabilities can showcase their talents and learn new things.
“Over 84 percent of people with cognitive disabilities are unemployed but they’re not unemployable — and there’s a big difference there,” Graham said. “We are proof that people with intellectual disabilities can have meaningful employment and be productive members of society.”