It is hard to find a "good fit" for a recent high school grad with Down syndrome. Many jobs require long stretches of standing or sitting and that can be a challenge for individuals with special needs.
Nolan Stilwell and his mother and job coach Christine, figured out a solution to that problem.
"We wanted to start a business where students with special needs could work," Christine said.
The idea grew out of Nolan's passion for gardening and cooking. It was a ground up calculation, she said—figure out what he liked and turn it into a business, rather than search for someplace he could fit in, she said.
The result, Sweet Heat Jam Co., has surpassed everyone's expectations, she said.
On Monday and Tuesday mornings, the smell of jalapeo and strawberry often fills the air at Grand Lakes Presbyterian Church. The church has gifted the use of their commercial kitchen to Nolan and his crew.
"This church has been a significant reason as to why it has been so successful," Christine said.
The group tried another commercial kitchen before this, but they had to work around other clients. That was a bit too distracting for the crew, she said.
The operation consists of Nolan, his employee Melissa, and a rotating cast of volunteers. This summer there will even be a few interns.
Christine supervises the "jam chemists," as they spend their time prepping the fruit and vegetables, cooking them and pouring the signature jams into jars.
"I think that the whole idea of having a job is to feel productive," Christine said. "These two guys are just an example of what can happen when they put their skills to work."
Where to find:
Great Harvest Bread Company, Katy Budget Books, Brookwood Community gift shop, and Farm to Market Produce Company in Bellville.
Sweet Heat Original, Apricot Jalapeo, Habenero Gold, Hatchenero Heat, Strawberry Jalapeo, Peach Heat, Drunken Pepper, Tropical Heat, Seasonal