How a young entrepreneur with Down Syndrome is fighting prejudice with cookies

Collette Divitto started a cookie-making business in 2011. This photo was posted on the "Collettey's Cookies" page.
Collette Divitto started a cookie-making business in 2011. This photo was posted on the "Collettey's Cookies" page.

What do you do when no one wants to hire you? That’s what happened to Collette Divitto, a 26-year-old American woman with Down Syndrome, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. Instead of giving up, this young woman decided to start her own business baking cookies, which she’s named "Collettey’s Cookies". After a successful start, she is now looking to hire other people with disabilities.

Collette Divitto has Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder also known as trisomy 21. It is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome and often results in developmental disability, which varies according to the individual.

In the United States, like most places in the world, it is often hard for people with a disability to find a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is connected to the Department of Labor, only 17.5% of people with a disability who are over the age of 16 were working in 2015, as compared to 65% of able-bodied people. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act bans hiring discrimination, the United States doesn’t have a system requiring companies to fulfill a hiring “quota” of employees with disabilities, as is the case in France.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: How a pizza business is helping Argentineans with Down Syndrome

Collette Divitto started her own business when she couldn’t find work elsewhere. Photo published on the "Collettey's Cookies" Facebook page.

"Employers either told me that I wasn’t what they were looking for or they didn’t call me back”

Collette Divitto explains how she decided to start a business.

I’ve always cooked a lot at home, especially with my mom. However, I didn’t take it seriously until I was about 15. I started taking cooking classes at school, which I really liked, so I began to spend more time at home cooking. I think cooking is fun but people also appreciate what I do!

However, a few years later, when I started to look for work in this field, I couldn’t find a job. No one told me directly that it was about my disability, but employers either said that I didn’t line up with what they were looking for or they just didn’t call me back at all. It was strange because I always felt like my interviews went well.

In 2011, I decided to start my own business with some help from my mom and my sister. We are a team. I’m the cook, my sister takes care of the social media and the “marketing” aspects of the business and my mom is in charge of the business plan. At first, it was just a small thing, but with time it grew bigger and bigger!

Collette Divitto poses in her kitchen in 2013, before her business took off. Photo published on the Collettey's Cookies Facebook page.

It wasn’t until Collette’s business was featured in a report that aired on local TV channel CBS Boston in November 2016 that business really took off.

"In the ten days afterwards, […] more than 50,000 cookies were ordered", says her website. Since then, "Collettey’s Cookies" has been experiencing a business boom.

"I am in the process of hiring a woman with cerebral palsy”

Collette Divitto continues:

For the past few weeks, I’ve been baking and selling my cookies at Golden Goose Market, in the North End neighbourhood in Boston, because I don’t have my own store yet. [Editor’s note: Before she started getting so many orders, Collette just made her cookies at home.] By the way, anyone who wants to try my cookies should check out my website because I can ship cookies to any address in the United States!

Collette Divitto poses in front of the Golden Goose Market, in Boston, where she currently bakes and sells her cookies. Photo published on the Collettey's Cookies Facebook page.

In the kitchen at Golden Goose Market. This video was posted on the Collettey's Cookies Facebook page.

Because business is going so well, I am actually in the process of hiring an employee! My new employee is a woman who has cerebral palsy [Editor’s note: A disorder caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls movement while a child is in its mother’s womb, during or shortly after birth]. I’m thrilled because my goal is to hire other people with disabilities [Editor’s note: Several volunteers also help to run Collette’s business].

I would like everyone to have the same opportunities in life. More than anything, we need to focus on building people’s skills, so that people with disabilities aren’t prevented from accomplishing something because of their disability.

Collette’s famous cookies. Photo published on the Collettey’s Cookies Facebook page.