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.

Summer Blues? Not at ScentsAbility….

Summer Blues?  Not at ScentsAbility….

This is my fifth summer with ScentsAbility and as with most businesses, summers tend to be slow.  And although there are no outdoor events due to the heat, no fundraisers due to vacations and wayward snowbirds, and no school events, it has still been a very productive, busy summer.

This summer has allowed time for launching new products and ideas for this evolving business.  We spent several afternoons working on the measurements and routine for making our new ScentMe Rollerballs, delightful combinations of essential oils blended with coconut oil.   Choosing the right blend can help soothe, energize, heal, or even keep bugs away.  In combination with our natural oils, BodySilk lotion, and Happy Hands sanitizers, our line of body products continues to grow.

Kim perfects her technique, adding scent, blending and capping our new ScentMe Rollerballs.

Other days were spent tweaking ideas and procedures for what we hope to be an exciting fall kickoff for our parties.  Just last week the staff made the initial batches of gel candles.  We all found it fun, choosing colorful sand, tiny shells, miniature glass critters or simply shapes to add to the clear jars.  After just a short time, we all delighted in our gel candles, peeking at the tiny worlds inside each.

Shaun shows off his miniature gel world. The stick holds the wick straight until the gel is set.

We then had our kids experiment with making ‘stinky paper’  hanging air fresheners, trying to develop the best process to paint and scent this new product.  They created everything from Tasha’s geometrically painted apple, Katie’s hearts and flowers apple, to Carmen’s birdhouse.  With the addition of a pleasant fragrance, the first delightfully ‘stinky’ deodorizers were ready to be hung in cars, closets, and bedrooms.

After completing her stinky paper air freshener, Katie supervises her mom in creating hers.  They were visiting for the day from Palm Beach.

So it’s barely mid-July, and what we thought would be a quiet summer has already proven to be quite productive.  We look forward to sharing these new products and ideas soon with our friends; keep checking our webpage for upcoming details.

A Quirky Crew….

A Quirky Crew….

A few weeks ago I wrote about the unique language that our chandlers have, making each day a bit more special.  That being said, I can hardly ignore that like all of us, they each have their clever, yet lovable, little quirks as well.

One of my favorites is Kim’s love of socks.  On any given day she could be wearing knee socks with hearts, geometric patterns, holiday images, Disney characters or sports teams.
Khari has his assortment of accessories:  often a heavy, magnetic neck chain, an oversized watch or a new case for his phone. And let’s not forget that he comes fully equipped with chewing gum for himself and anybody who wants to share it.  For Billy it is all about hats, most often representing a sports team.

Khari stirs wax, showing off a few of his favorite accessories.

For others it is not an item, but a habit.  If you hear singing coming from the bathroom, it is probably Kornti, complete with headsets and CD player.  And it’s not unusual for her to start twerking at any moment, a brief interruption to whatever job she might be doing.

If you hear a timid sneeze, it is likely Jessica.  Her ‘fake sneezes’ are her signature way of letting us all know she’s around.  And if you want to know anything about Lady Liberty, just ask her, and she will likely be wearing at least one of many pieces of jewelry representing her favorite landmark.

More often than not Lexy will either be drawing in Romero Britto style or copying a list of Justin Bieber songs from her phone, while Jamie likes to make lists of just about anything. Last week it was names of chandlers going to Orlando; before that it was a list of all the candle scents.  We all envy his seriously neat penmanship.

And one little quirk shared by all:  their belief that sitting down on the job for frequent breaks is absolutely essential.

I could go on…and on… sharing endearing habits about food, movies, games, even singing in the car.  But let’s save that for a later blog…

A Family Affair….

A Family Affair….

They had been anticipating the Orlando trip for months:  counting down the days, laying out their clothes, rearranging work schedules and just simply getting excited.  It was the annual trip to the Family Cafe in Orlando, and the chandlers could barely wait until the day arrived.

The boys left on Thursday with John to get there a day ahead to set up the booths, and the girls piled into two cars Friday morning to arrive just in time to get the booth running.  When I saw the over-sized suitcases and the necessary tables and products ready to be loaded into the cars, I could not visualize how everything and everybody could fit, but they did, and their experiences exceeded all expectations.

The main focus of this annual event is to provide a place for thousands of individuals with disabilities and their families to connect, sharing information and products.  And, of course, the ScentsAbility booth, especially the Magic Candles section, was a main attraction.

Nevertheless, the take-away for the crew was less about their booth and more about other facets of the convention.  Jessica’s favorite part of the weekend was riding an adult two-seater tricycle, allowing her the freedom (with a friend helping to pedal) of cruising around the neighborhood.  Of course, they’re figuring out how to purchase one to use at home.  Shaun was impressed with all the service dogs and with the small TV that was part of the hotel’s bathroom mirror.  Billy, Khari and Michael were regulars at the Beeline Diner, which was open 24 hours.  And on Friday night the entire crew went to Pizza Hut to celebrate Kim’s birthday.

The highlight of the weekend was the dance, where hundreds of young adults with various disabilities danced the night away.  The evening was hosted by Chef Guido, the event’s mascot, while a Storm Trooper, Spiderman, Superman, Super Girl, and Anna from ‘Frozen”  joined the dancers.

And although I enjoyed their first-hand reports after they returned home, nothing convinced me more about the success of the weekend than their smiles in the videos of them all dressed up, dancing and just having a grand time with hundreds of young adults coming together as family for a common cause.

Boys’ Day at the Shoppe….

Boys’ Day at the Shoppe….

We are all creatures of habit, and my usual days at the shoppe are Tuesdays and Thursdays, but occasionally I enjoy stopping by on a Wednesday.

The crew is very different that day because Billy, Michael, and Khari work at an elevator company on my usual days, so Wednesday has become boys’ day at the shoppe — even though there are usually a few gals around as well.

The differences are immediately obvious.  Khari is always front and center with high fives and a loud, “Linda, I missed you.”   I’m not sure the boy ever sits down.  Billy is generally at the table, and I usually get a current update on his favorite sports teams and mine.  Michael is less predictable, but I know he will have a story.  He’ll either be telling me about the most recent sales event, his Special Olympics accomplishments, or his weekend adventures.

But what stands out most is the noise level.  My years in the classroom taught me that no group is louder than a bunch of girls, but these guys have changed my mind.  No matter the topic, each seems to want to talk louder than the other.  Their laughing is frequent — and very difficult to talk over.  It is also contagious.  An educated guess tells me that perhaps their lunches together at Pizza Time before coming to the shoppe put them on a carb high, or more simply, perhaps it’s just their obvious camaraderie.

Billy stirs wax to make candles for a special order.

But the work still gets done;  Billy’s favorite job is wicking or stirring, while Michael likes to work with wax.  Khari is up for anything, but can always be relied on to be in motion, whether taking out the garbage or just checking up on everybody.

So Wednesdays have become a welcome change to my routine; perhaps I should join the boys more often.

Makes Scents….Right?

Makes Scents….Right?

As a long time high school English teacher, I thought I had a pretty good command of the language, but the ScentsAbility gang has taught me quite a few vocabulary lessons.  They often use words and phrases that only they understand, but I soon realized their playfulness with the English language makes complete sense.

For instance, a former chandler, Leslie, loved to compare scents; however, occasionally she would smell a few candles and decide there was absolutely no ‘snifference’ between them.  The word has caught on.

And once or twice a month Kim and Jamie remind me that it is time to pour ‘hanitizer.”  This confused me at first, but I figured it out as I glanced at the hand sanitizer work area.  I should have known!   Similarly Kortni enjoys making ‘crochets.”  Knowing that we do not create yarn products at the shoppe, I eventually realized she was referring to our sachets, better know as Scent Rocks.

Kortni Malortni filling up ‘crochet’ bags.

And just when I thought I knew everyone at the shoppe by name, I heard stories about Johnny Boy and Daddy Becker;  who are they?  Apparently, ‘they’ are John, the IT director.  And when the staff started giggling about Barney and Bernice going with them to Lando, I was lost.  I soon learned they are Jessica’s mom Bonnie and Lexy’s mom Denise, who would be on the Orlando trip with them next week.  Who knew!

And then there’s the staff.  It took me a while to figure out that Onion Boy is Khari,  Drewski Maluski is Drew,  Kortni Malortni and Courtney Cox are both Kortni,  Carmen San Diego is, of course, Carmen, the Foreman is Shaun, and Jessica and Michael call each other Honey Bunches of Oats.

Okay,  I thought I had it all straight – until yesterday.  Lexy kept calling me Linda Pinda, and  Jessica called from her storeroom/office, “Hey, Second Linda, do you need me to stir?”  So now this Linda, aka AfterLinda, now has yet a few more names.  I’m getting used to it.   It all makes scents, right?  (Or is it sense)?

Jessica fills up Scent Rocks sachets