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Self-Employment: A Virtual Success Story

Sarah O’Keefe proudly displays her stamped logo representing her candle business Sarah’s Sassy Scents.

Derek Hamburg was all set to launch his sports podcast this fall, when it was recently announced that the Big 10 Conference would be postponed. Because of this, Hamburg’s Huddle, Derek’s podcast, dedicated entirely to Maryland college sports, has been temporarily sidelined.

Then there’s Jessica Zuback, who launched her bath and beauty products business, Zuback Creations, last November, but halted production of her products in March, when it became impossible to set up shop at local farmer’s markets and craft shows due to the coronavirus shutdown of all nonessential businesses.

For Sarah O’Keefe the pandemic has meant she has had to limit point of sales of her candles, Sarah’s Sassy Scents, to local delivery, pickup and shipping. With the recent launch of her Facebook business page, she’s hoping to reach more customers.

What these enterprising young people all have in common is a desire for self-employment, and the determination not to allow their intellectual or physical disabilities stand in the way of fully realizing their dreams of having their own businesses. With the support of Penn-Mar Westminster’s Self-Employment program and their families, Sarah, Jessica, and Derek’s dreams are being fulfilled, despite the setbacks caused by the coronavirus.

“I’ve been so blown away by their passion and creativity, and how clear a vision they have of how they want their businesses to grow,” said Stacy Latchaw, Quality Coordinator, who with the help of Youth Coordinator Jennifer Tillman, established Penn-Mar Westminster’s Self-Employment program this past spring.

Virtual Supports: A Silver Lining

The idea of starting a Self-Employment program was being thrown around some months prior to Covid-19. Stacy was thinking of how she could bring together the group of budding entrepreneurs in Penn-Mar Westminster’s Day Program for a weekly or monthly meeting to share ideas, insights, and resources. Initially, Jessica, Sarah and Derek, and another participant, were working one-on-one on their business plans with the Employment team.

“One of the problems we faced before Covid, was finding a time when everyone could get together,” said Stacy. “It became a logistical nightmare.”

However, in an ironic twist, that problem was resolved, when the coronavirus reared its ugly head and sent everyone indoors. With Penn-Mar’s Day Programs closed, and in-person employment services stopped, staff immediately set about expanding services through virtual means.

“Going virtual has been a game changer,” said Stacy. “It opened up a new way of providing supports, and we’ve had some remarkable results – the level of engagement has been so much higher, and our group has been able to get together online on a regular basis.”

Planning for Success

To get the Self-Employment program up and running, Stacy turned to Jenn Tillman for assistance. With her background in education and work as Youth Coordinator in Transition Services, which supports young adults with disabilities transition from high school into the community, Jenn had already begun moving her classes online, and getting other groups set up as well.

With an outline of the program that Stacy provided, Jenn created a curriculum around Self-Employment that the group could use. She used a business plan template to guide the lessons, and they made portfolios and resumes within PowerPoint to provide the group with action steps and goals over a period of time.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Jenn. “I’m constantly learning from the people I work with, who amaze me by how much they have to offer, and how they are changing the minds of those around them to see ability over disability.”

“What is so unique about this program and working with each of the entrepreneurs on their business plans, is the fact that they are driving their own businesses, and not other people,” Stacy said. “They came up with their own vision statements and vision boards. They came up with their goals that all have time-frames and specific action steps. Our work is to educate and help them understand the tools to guide them towards their goals. I can see great things coming out of this for all of them.”


Sarah’s Sassy Scents

The idea for Sarah O’Keefe’s business, sprung out of an arts and crafts project that she was working on with staff at Penn-Mar Westminster’s Day Program. The project included pre-made candles, and when Stacy Latchaw, Quality Coordinator, asked Sarah if she would like to make her own candles, her response was an enthusiastic yes.

Although Sarah has verbal communication barriers, she was able to communicate that she not only wanted to make the candles, but wanted to make it a business. Thus began Sarah’s Sassy Scents, a name she came up with. Working with Stacy, and with full creative input, Sarah designed her business logo. Through trial and error they began producing candles made from palm wax, using various types of molds and glass containers and manually pouring the wax. Staff members tested them for quality.

Despite her limited mobility, Sarah is very involved in making the candles. She picks out the scents and colors, and lately has been interested in creating “mandles,” a line of candles for men. It wasn’t long before she was selling her candles to family and friends, and today is producing about 10 a week, and focusing on making custom orders.

Sarah communicated that she likes having her own business and being able to work at her own pace. Creating something for people to enjoy is very meaningful to her and gives her a sense of accomplishment.

For more information about Sarah’s Sassy Scents and to make an order visit her Facebook page.


Hamburg’s Huddle

Last fall Derek Hamburg was recruited by Carroll County’s Francis Scott Key High School to announce the home games of the school’s boys’ varsity soccer team. It was an opportunity Derek cherished, and which sparked the idea for a sports podcast – a natural outcome for someone who is at home in front of a mic, sharing his love and knowledge of sports that began at an early age.

Taking his abiding love of sports, his years of experience in public speaking, and his longtime dream of becoming a broadcaster, Derek, with the guidance of Stacy Latchaw, began the process of creating a podcast that would focus on Maryland college and university sports.

Hamburg’s Huddle wasn’t the only name he came up with for his podcast, Hamburg’s Sideline was one other. With a choice of names in the bag, they took a poll through Survey Monkey, and not surprisingly Hamburg’s Huddle came out the favorite. With its distinctive ring, it aptly captures the idea of a close conversation, and of course is a play on the practice in football of players gathering away from the line of scrimmage for instructions.

Although the college sports season has been postponed due to the pandemic, Derek is making good use of this time to conduct practice interviews. It won’t be long now before he’s ready to launch his podcast. Stay tuned.


Zuback Creations

Launched last year, just around the holiday season, Zuback Creations, the brainchild of Jessica Zuback, is a line of bath and beauty products mostly made from beeswax and essential oils by dōTerra, and include body butter, body lotion bars, sugar scrubs, lip balm, solid perfume, and a beard balm.

Zuback Creations came about through Jessica’s love for beauty products, as well as the need for greater career independence. “I found working with people stressful, so I decided to start my own business,” she said.

Once the idea was formed, she began a journal, and along with Penn-Mar DSP Kristen Whetzel, spent hours at the library and online researching beauty products and product production, eventually setting out to buy all the supplies. The family kitchen became the lab and production center.

Her first batch of products were stocked by SK Gifts, a shop in Mount Airy, Md., and over the year Jessica began setting up her table at her local bingo hall, farmer’s market and at craft shows. She would like to eventually move her business entirely online, but first needs to create a website and is looking into how she might get some help setting one up. If all goes well, Jessica would like to move the business outside the home and possibly with other entrepreneurs obtain a grant to set up their own manufacturing center, but first they have to get past Covid.

For more information about Zuback Creations’ line of products, contact Stacy Latchaw by email at StacyLatchaw@penn-mar.org.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 28th, 2020 at 9:31 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.