Soaring Once Again….

Soaring Once Again….

From the first day I walked into ScentsAbility, I felt a rekindling with a school I had taught at over a decade ago, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, named after a pioneer and savior of the Everglades who had, when the school was founded, already endured over 100 years of life, most of it fighting to save Florida’s precious Everglades.

Perhaps this rekindling was because of Kim who had graduated from Douglas during the time I taught there; we often shared stories about those years, and her love of sports made her extra proud to have been at MSD while Chicago Cub first baseman, Tony Rizzo, attended there.  Perhaps it was the plethora of student volunteers who come into the shoppe from Douglas.  Perhaps it was the proximity to PizzaTime: a favorite of the ScentsAbility crew as well as my own sons and their friends who attended Stoneman Douglas.

More recently it was a young man, Zachary, a freshman at MSD, who is simply different from all the other student volunteers we have had.  He does not come to the shoppe just to earn his 30 hour school requirement.  He has sincerely enjoyed being there and has a connection with our chandlers, despite being half their age, that I’ve not seen in any other young adult.  He is already figuring out how to get other MSD students involved with our crew.

Zachary, Kim and Anais have something in common: they are all Douglas Eagles.

So when the tragedy occurred at Douglas on Valentine’s Day, my first thoughts were of Zachary and of some of the teachers and staff I know there.  Bonnie, the shoppe director, immediately texted me that Zach was OK and would be coming to the shoppe as much as possible as a sort of respite from the horrendous experience he had endured.

I get it.  ScentsAbility is that kind of place, a place that is a part of the real world, but has a reality and sense of time all its own.  A simpler place where love and camaraderie and togetherness prevail, where hugs are the norm, where time often seems to stand still.   A place where everybody is a friend – and often family – to everybody else.

Anais quickly learns to pour just the right amount of scent rocks into the bag.

This week another Douglas student, a student with special needs, Anais, came to ScentsAbility.  Not only had she endured the February tragedy, but she and her mother came to Parkland to live with her aunt a few months ago when her home in Puerto Rico was destroyed during Hurricane Maria.  Her aunt thought perhaps ScentsAbility would be a comfortable place for Anais while adjusting to not one, but two life altering experiences.  And Anais fit right in.   By the end of the day, she was cutting decorative ribbons, making scent rocks and dispensing hand sanitizer, all the while with a smile on her face.  Smiles have no language, and although Anais is working hard on her English, the interactions and hugs with new friends made any language barrier disappear.

Zach shares wax pouring techniques with Anais as she pours her first candles.

It has been only a few difficult weeks since the tragedy, but as is typical with tragedies, communities and people come together, sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, and often by coincidence.  I have never witnessed such a sense of community, this sense of Coral Springs and Parkland being one against evil, this sense of the worlds of young adults with special needs and typical young adults becoming one.  I saw it when I walked by the memorials at the school, I saw it at the vigils in the park, and I see it every day at the ScentsAbility.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas would have been proud of the students at the school which is part of her legacy.  Like her, they will endure, with a sense of community they will prosper, and like Eagles they will soar.

With a Little Help….

With a Little Help….

I had my doubts….I anticipated we might have a little trouble making lava bead bracelets.  It was a great idea for a new scent product, and we hoped to be able to make the bracelets ourselves rather than ordering them pre-made.

My doubts began early – long before we even opened the kits in the shoppe.  I was visiting my 10 year old granddaughter Lizzie and figured she was the perfect one to try the task.  Disregarding the annoyance of her dogs trying to chase down wayward beads, bracelet assembly went well.

NOTE TO SELFFind a way that the beads won’t roll off the table even if you don’t have pets.

Then it was time to knot— which became a series of failures.  Bracelet after bracelet broke, knots came loose and beads dropped everywhere.  I emailed Cheryl, the lady who had supplied the kits, and she promptly replied that she would be coming to south Florida soon and would be glad to give us a tutorial.

A peek at some of the variety of bracelets Cheryl shared with us.

Meeting Cheryl, whose company is Coconut Quartz, was just one of those fortuitous coincidences.  Bonnie had met her in December while visiting Niagara Falls, where Cheryl just happens to have a shop, which Bonnie just happened to walk into.  And it was only a few minutes before Bonnie envisioned these lava rock sensations – capable of holding scent – in ScentsAbility’s product line.

While we waited a few weeks for Cheryl and her husband Steve to visit the shoppe, I began to worry that not all of our staff would be able to string the tiny beads onto an even tinier, one millimeter stretchy string.  Imagine my surprise when I walked into the shop on the morning of their visit, and several of the kids were already stringing bracelets they had personally designed.   The table was a potpourri of color and texture as beads and spacers were passed around and Jessica, Lexy and Kortni proudly held up their unfinished creations for me to admire.


Jessica proudly shows off the beads she strung herself.

NOTE TO SELF Remind everyone, including me, that beads fall off the string more easily than they go onto the string, especially when held upright.

As the kids completed their bracelets, I noticed how differently each created her pattern.  Jessica’s choice of beads and colors seemed rather spontaneous — much like she is.  Lexy, by contrast, chose her beads in small batches, reminding me of her work pattern: one task at a time.  Kortni loved all the beads, and her creation shows that as vividly as her personality does.

Lexy meticulously assembles her bracelet, section by section.

NOTE TO SELF The ‘how’ does not matter;  the results are all unique — and beautiful.

Then the moment of truth.  Cheryl showed us how to tie the knot; the secret lay more in the technique of tightening the knot than the actual tying.  Success!

Then more decisions….Lexy chose to scent her dark pink lava rocks with Cinnamon, Kortni thought sniffing Eucalyptus on her multi-colored bracelet might help her allergies, and Jessica chose Lavender for her pink and white stones.  Others opted to forego the scents for now.  Regardless, faces of staff and students alike beamed with pride over our new creations.

Cheryl, Jessica, Kortni, Sara and Lexy smell the scents they added to the lava rocks.

The morning ended with pictures, hugs, thanks and new friends who simply chose to stop by the shoppe on their way from Canada – through Ft. Lauderdale –  to a cruise to the Bahamas.

NOTE TO SELFThese kids can do anything — with a little help from our new friends!

Holiday Flurry….

Holiday Flurry….

After over four years volunteering with the ScentsAbility family, I thought I was used to surprises…of all types.   And being in the midst of my fourth holiday season at the shop, I thought I was ready for the accelerated pace of sales and events.

But I was not ready for this season.  It has been a flurry of surprises, orders and events.

For me it started when I got a phone call from Bonnie the day before Thanksgiving.  First of all, a phone call – not a text??  I quickly learned that the Chief Marketing Officer from GreenspoonMarder had come in and pretty much cleared the shelves in the showroom.

Then came a large order from Joe Blythe in New Jersey, owner of WICK IT, the company that donates all of our amazing cotton wicks. Uncle Joe, as we affectionately call him, wanted to restock his supply of ScentsAbility Candles for his warehouse storefront.  We were exhausted — happily.

Our candle display at Wick It in New Jersey.

But why stop at New Jersey.  Next came a surprise call from an employee at the Embassy of Israel in Washington D.C. She had found us online and wanted to order personalized candles for the Embassy’s holiday party.  What an honor — we are still beaming.

And the busy days have been great.  The kids have never worked so hard wicking and cleaning and lidding and labeling, and we all leave the shop every afternoon smelling like a wonderful concoction of our new aromas.

In the meantime Bonnie and varying chandlers have been at events from the Palm Beach School for Autism in Lake Worth, to Weston Town Center,  to the Franklin Academy in Pembroke Pines.   I get reports from the kids such as, “We sold out of Magic Candles.”  Or “I learned to upsell,and somebody bought ten pine candles.”

Anthony Rizzo takes time for a photo with Kim, Kortni, Denise Lexy, Jessica and Bonnie.

And let’s not forget some fun at the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation 6th Annual Walk-Off for Cancer in Parkland where several of our crew met Chicago Cubs baseball star and Stoneman Douglas graduate, Anthony Rizzo.  Plus the shop has been visited by some fascinating people such as the man who bought every Havana Nights candle because it reminded him of his homeland, and the Marine veteran, Nick, who came in for some Lavender Essential Oil and stayed a while to chat and help out a bit.

Kim went to high school with Rizzo, and as she always says “I sat next to him in study!”

We are still in the midst of the Holiday Season, and I can only imagine what’s next.  And why not!!  It’s what ScentsAbility has been working toward for a long time.

A Blissful Afternoon….

A Blissful Afternoon….

It was one of those moments….a few friends and I at a beachside cafe, simply enjoying the gentle OCEAN BREEZE as we pondered the breakfast menu.  It was one of those carefree days, so we all enjoyed a decadent CINNAMON BUN with fresh squeezed TUSCAN ORANGE juice rendered from blood oranges.

What could be better? So –  hesitant to get to work and mesmerized by the combined aromas of the almost sensual OCEAN BREEZE and the MAGNOLIA BLOOM fragrance of the bouquet on the table, we decided to order some succulent, warm WHITE TEA with a refreshing dessert of SALTED CARAMELS, while contemplating an afternoon at a BALI SPA.

Then abruptly and rather sadly, I was brought back to reality as one of our staff hollered, “My bus is here, I gotta go!”  And another echoed, “What’s for dinner?”

It was nice while it lasted….

Candles cooling, waiting for wicks to be cut and labels to be applied.

Was it the combined aromas of all those new scents we were pouring that day, or simply my euphoria from the first pour of the day, EXTREME OUD, that sent me into that blissful trance?

Doesn’t matter….it was wonderful.  And I can’t wait to see where the next afternoon’s candle pouring will send us.

Teaming with JAFCO….

Teaming with JAFCO….

ScentsAbility hosted a very special team building event last week as eight members of JAFCO’s development team joined our crew at the Shoppe.

They were here not only to hone their team building skills, but also to participate in hands-on tasks which would provide first-hand experience working with, accommodating, and learning from individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).  Just a few years ago JAFCO opened its Children’s Ability Center in Sunrise to service children with IDD, so our guests were eager to interact with our chandlers.

Lexy and Jessica prepare scent rock samples and flyers for our guests.

Their experience began with a simple job:  putting on their aprons.  Our crew quickly donned theirs and then assisted the visitors who were not quite sure whether to tie the strings in front or back or how to adjust the neck strap.  Our kids are pros at this — and so began the fascinating experience of this blurring of who was teaching whom.

Our guests put on their aprons as instructed by our crew.

As we assembled around the pouring table, crew paired with visitors, Bonnie, our director, explained that we were in the process of completing an order for a private label, and the already poured Bali Spa scented candles needed to be cleaned, labeled and packed.   So the kids began to show the JAFCO group the process, at first working in pairs which soon became small, even competitive, groups.  I’m not sure whether our chandlers or our visitors were more proud of a properly cleaned tin with a perfectly centered label.

Chandlers and JAFCO guests exemplify teamwork, learning how to effectively clean and label tins.

But that really doesn’t matter — because I soon noticed that the group who came to team build was forming new teams, blending with our crew as well as each other.  In the midst of the cheerful chatter, I heard phrases of “we’re teaming,” “I’m nervous,” “let’s brainstorm,” “can you help me,” “what’s next,” “look what I did,” “good job,” and “gotta help my friend over here.”

Kim and Michael share their hand sanitizer expertise with Ariel and Janet.

One of my favorite comments was from Janet who stated, “I just burn them…” but, like the others, she soon realized there was far more involved in candle-making than most would think.

Deena, Tara, Shanna and Jessica work with Bonnie on choosing and mixing scents for their rollerballs.

There were more experiences awaiting our guests, including wicking some votive glasses, bottling essential oils and pouring hand sanitizer, but no matter the task, the upbeat mood,  bonding, and motivation of all involved kept growing.  When one of our chandlers, Khari, moved away from the table to demonstrate our new wicking tool which accommodates his disability, his JAFCO teammate Shelli rather jokingly pleaded, “You can’t abandon us, we’re learning to wick.”   To which our always calm Khari responded, “Patience, my Friend.”

When things get a big hectic, we always rely on Khari, aka ‘Mister'” to remind us to be patient.

And so what began as a team building activity for JAFCO, became so much more than any of us expected.  Because they had other commitments that afternoon, the experience ended all too soon,  but as they left with bags of candles to use and share, one visitor summed up the experience perfectly:  “Best day at work…ever!”


City Employees Visit ScentsAbility….

City Employees Visit ScentsAbility….

We had some special visitors at the shoppe last week, a group of employees from the City of Coral Springs.  Their visit had a dual purpose.  First, we wanted to show them what this micro-enterprise in their own city was really all about, to make it personal for them and to acquaint them with the staff, our goals, and the variety and quality of our products.  And secondly, they willingly became a sort of practice group, going through the activities that the staff has been working on all summer for our upcoming party and team building events which will soon be available to the public.

Staff members greeted our guests at the door and while in the front showroom, Bonnie, the founder and director, gave them a brief background of the mission of this 501c which she created to help her daughter Jessica on her road to independence.

Our guests surround the pouring table, each assisted by one of our staff members.

Then came the moment that captivates all of our visitors: they met each of the staff attending that day.  I could see our guests’ smiles and hear their ‘ahhs’ as our crew introduced themselves and commented on what ScentsAbility has done for them.  The common thread amongst them was the camaraderie, love, and purpose that this business has afforded them.  Several of our crew shared that they have found outside jobs as a result of their training here, and all have found a social life and second family with the friends they’ve found at ScentsAbility.  And not to forget the products themselves, they shared their favorite tasks in creating our candles and other scent items.

Next, as our staff helped the visitors don their work aprons, we moved to the factory where our guests played a few games.  Kim came very close with her guess as to how many scent balls were in a jar, and Lydia and Greg did a great job at guessing what our new scents were by merely sniffing the oils.

Kim stirs the cinnamon scent into the soy as Bonnie and Lexy look on.

They then poured their own cinnamon scented candles, being guided, of course, by our staff.  They learned about the accommodations we make for our chandlers with special needs, specifically how pink duct tape turns into a tool helping them line up the empty tins and how, with the aid of a specially designed wicker, they can perfectly install a wick in a jar despite any physical or visual disability.

Greg, Lydia, Joyce and Kim learn to bottle and cap their choices of essential oils and create their own roller ball blends.

And just when our guests thought that was it, they were shown our line of essential oils and scented rollerballs, creating one of each for themselves. Then on to one more station, as the guests poured their own hand sanitizers.

It was a busy afternoon for us all.  Conversations and hugs as they exited confirmed that they did, indeed, appreciate what our shoppe and our chandlers have to offer.  They all said they’d be sharing their experience and their samples with friends and co-workers.  And we all agreed that the staff has created an informative, fun-filled experience for those who will participate in our parties and team building activities.

All I Really Need to Know….

All I Really Need to Know….

Several years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a book entitled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”   It lists basic axioms such as “Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you,”  “Play fair,” and “Flush,” all metaphorically applying to life.

It’s one of my favorite books, and I referenced it often in my high school classroom.  However, after 4 years of volunteering at ScentsAbility, I could easily write a companion book to Fulghum’s, and I would call it “Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned at ScentsAbility.”

And the lessons I see in action there daily would include the following:

  • Work is easier when chatting with friends.
  • Take breaks whenever you feel like it.  Why not?
  • Run errands in pairs.  It’s not only safer, but more fun.
  • “How you doin’” – in your best NY accent – is the preferred greeting at Pizza Time.
  • Hugs are precious.  Give them freely.
  • Share — almost everything.
  • Plan at least 11 months ahead for your next birthday celebration.
  • If you can’t find something, Sandy probably can find it for you.
  • All jobs are easier with music or a video in the background.
  • If you can turn a task into a game, go for it.
  • It’s OK to cry – or laugh really loud – or just be quiet sometimes.
  • Be sure to get rid of all ‘garbage.’

I could go on, but you get the idea….oh, wait… just one more.

  • Knowing an individual with special needs can be quite special.

    Kortni and Shaun know that working as a team makes everything easier.

A Different Kind of Back to School Night….

A Different Kind of Back to School Night….

For me it felt like back-to-school night last Wednesday evening, but for the ScentsAbility crew a visit from Nicole Hick’s Broward College Transition to Post Secondary Education class turned into a rewarding sort of mutual admiration society, with huge benefits for all involved.

The evening began in the front showroom as Bonnie shared background on how the shop came to be nearly 6 years ago, filling a need for her daughter Jessica and others who were rather lost after they aged out of the Public School system.

Bonnie and Broward College visitors, Carolina, Lady, Prof. Hicks and Gabriella, chat in the workroom.

Soon Bonnie brought the class into the shop to meet our anxiously waiting chandlers. She introduced them one by one, briefly discussing their diagnoses, and asked them to share what ScentsAbility has meant to them.

I never tire of hearing them respond to this query.  Lexy went first and with the biggest grin imaginable responded, “It’s my job!!”  And she proceeded to detail her infatuation with Justin Bieber.

Jessica introduced herself in her demure way, welcoming everyone to her shoppe, soon pointing to Michael, proudly stating that he was her ‘Honey,”    By now the BC class members were beginning to gather closer, their faces full of affectionate smiles.

Michael chats with Marina in the front showroom.

Khari was next.  Never a man of few words, he explained how his businessman father taught him all about selling.  He reminded us that when people tell you that you can not do something, you just do it anyway.

Shaun was then introduced as the newest member of the crew. Having been doing very little for several years, he radiates pride and happiness discussing his newfound purpose.

And then came Michael, pretty much the spokesperson of ScentsAbility.  He warned us all not to overdo it with exercise or sports, and he should know;  he is a proud medalist in soccer for Special Olympics.  He tearfully said he’d be lost without Bonnie, John and the shoppe.

These boys share a further bond as they work together at Sees Elevator Company, largely due to the job skills acquired at the candle shoppe.

Tash was next, our only chandler living in a group home.  Her reward for good behavior is her job at the shoppe.  Her success is a tribute to the ScentsAbility’s purpose;  she even sleeps in her work t-shirt to remind herself stay on task at her home.

Kim, a Chicago Cubs fanatic, chats with Anthony from Broward College about Anthony Rizzo and the Cubs.

Finally, Kim beamed proudly, sharing that she is lid manager, customer service manager, loves our hand sanitizer and also works at Publix.   This from a girl who was too shy to speak to me for 6 weeks after I met her!

The evening ended with a tour of the work area, a look at our products, lots of questions and even more importantly, interaction between the BC students and our chandlers.  Talk turned to family, goals, sports, trips, just about anything.  The distinctions between teacher, BC students and our crew blurred as the evening drew to a close and literally every visitor lined up with arms full of products to purchase.

Carolina checks out her selection of candles with the help of Bonnie at the register and Kim bagging.

The checkout line was long, but nobody cared, for it allowed more time to get to know each other, take pics, share even more hugs, and exchange promises to see each other again soon.

Touring the Police Department….

Touring the Police Department….

It’s not everyday you get invited to the Police Department — for all the right reasons.  Coral Springs Police Department invited our ScentsAbility crew for an informational tour of their facility on Coral Springs Drive.

Billy, Kim, Jessica and Drew wait in the lobby for our tour to begin.

After receiving our ID badges, we were greeted by Lynne Martzall, Community Involvement Coordinator, and Officer Hannah Rincon, who would be accompanying us on the tour.

So, off to the Briefing Room.  At this point Lynne talked to a few of our boys who had expressed concerns about awkward experiences with law enforcement.  She  explained that they may have been questioned at a bus stop simply because they resembled somebody the officer was searching for, or that just because you are in a car with someone being ticketed for a driving offense, this does not mean you are at fault.  She explained that while an officer is working, it is best to just answer questions and not try to socialize or argue a point — a tough but important lesson.

Then we learned about a State program enacted in 2016.  According to Florida Statutes #322.051 & 943.0439, parents have the right to be present when an adult child with special needs is being questioned.  Also individuals with a state ID card can request a new card which identifies them as individuals with Special Needs. This special Florida designation can be obtained by going to a local DMV and applying for it under the above statutes.

In the Briefing Room Officer Rincon explains the new Florida Statutes and also talks about some of our kids’ concerns.

To further facilitate the needs of every individual with special needs, Lynne and Officer Rincon discussed the data base that CS Police has created for local residents. There an officer can find a photograph, identifying information, plus other personal information to more safely and effectively interact with the special needs community.   Our Director, Bonnie, was given applications to give to the parents or guardians of the ScentsAbility crew to be sure they become a part of this data base.

Then we went to the Holding Area which was accessible only because nobody was being held at the time.  A few of our kids felt very uncomfortable in this confined space.  It was difficult for them to see the small cells with only a toilet and sink — no paper, no soap – just a bench to sit on, certainly not the accommodations we are all used to.

Our visit ended with a stop at Dispatch.  Seeing the 911 crew in action and coordinating with the emergency dispatch unit was fascinating, and we did get to witness a call for emergency medical assistance.  We also learned about being sure the location setting on our cell phones is in the on position, just in case we ever need to be located in an emergency.

Officer Rincon escorted us outside when it was time to leave and answered a few last minute questions.

All too soon, it was time to leave and let our hosts get back to work.  I certainly learned a few safety tips, our staff got useful and reassuring information, and I feel confident that with the new proactive programs for our citizens with special needs, they and their loved ones can feel an extra measure of security.

So Many ‘Hats’….

So Many ‘Hats’….

I first met Bonnie at a green market a few years ago.  For many reasons — the kids, the candles, the aromas — I was drawn to the booth, but after walking away, the impression that stayed with me most was the passion and enthusiasm of Bonnie.

I was unsure of her role.  Yes, she is Jessica’s mom and founder of ScentsAbility, but I noticed even back then that she was so much more, and I’ve never seen it so vividly as last week.

It was an extra busy day in the shop;  we were finishing an order of 650 candles for a JARC event.  Bonnie, as usual, was alternating between managing phone calls and emails and overseeing the candle-making process.  These jobs were interrupted by her role as surrogate mom as a few of the crew needed help preparing their lunches.  Minutes later, the manager job of Bonnie manifested itself as a contact from FAU came in to discuss upcoming events and shortly thereafter two ladies came to select candles for possible private labeling.

By that point I’d lost count of the roles she had already played, when a phone call came in;  one of our chandler’s dads had an emergency and she would need a ride home.  Seconds later another of our crew needed help regulating her insulin and another exhibited stomach pains.   So….new ‘hats’ of crisis manager, social worker, nurse and friend emerged.

A little after 6:00 most of the crew had been picked up, the last batch of candles was drying, and it was time to go home.  As I left, however, I looked back, and there was Bonnie, still scheduling events and personnel and returning phone calls, before going home.

And, by the way, if you are reading this blog, I managed to get it posted before her modest humility suggested I not do so.