“After college, I moved to Boston and tried to find a paying job. Everyone told me I was ‘not a...
“After college, I moved to Boston and tried to find a paying job. Everyone told me I was ‘not a good fit for the company.’ So I decided to open my own business.”
Two years ago, Collette Divitto never dreamed she’d one day be invited to speak at the United Nations. All she really dreamed about was getting a job. After each interview, she left feeling optimistic-only to get a rejection email. Because no matter her smarts and likability, one detail always held Collette back: her Down syndrome. So after countless rejections, she decided to take her future into her own hands-starting with one incredible cookie.
Collette Divitto first learned how to bake in high school. Once she got a handle on the basics, she started inventing her own recipes on the weekends. Collette’s creations were always good, but one day in 2011, she made a cookie that blew her family away. It was packed with chocolate chips, rolled in cinnamon sugar, and baked to a golden brown.
“We’d always try the recipes she created, but one day she made a cookie that was so good,” says Collette’s mom, Rosemary. “We told her, ‘Do you remember the recipe? You have to write it down.'”
Collette named it her “Amazing Cookie.” It was so tempting that her family even suggested she start her own business to sell it. But Collette had other plans: She wanted to go to college.
After high school, Clemson University accepted Collette into its advanced two-year LIFE program. Once she graduated, she moved to Boston to begin her job search in earnest. Little did she know that job search would take three years.
Everyone wanted to hire Collette for unpaid volunteer positions.
But when it came to paying jobs, she’d get past several rounds of encouraging interviews, only to return home and learn she’d been rejected yet again.
“After college, I tried to find a paying job,” says Collette. “But everyone would tell me over email that I was ‘not a good fit for the company.'”
At one of her volunteer jobs, they loved Collette and asked her to take on more and more responsibilities. She asked to be paid for her efforts, and they told her not to show up the next day. Soon after, Collette found that same role listed on a job site-as a paid position.
“This happened over and over again,” says Rosemary. “Collette realized they meant that because of her disability, she didn’t fit in. The whole process was very disappointing.”
But rather than give up, Collette decided that she would make her own job opportunity-and pave the way for others like her. So at the end of 2016, she took her Amazing Cookie to a local market, convinced them to stock it on their shelves, and officially launched her own business: Collettey’s Cookies.
With the help of her sister, Blake, Collette shared the story of her new cookie business on social media. Quickly, the word began to spread, and in no time at all, local reporters were on the steps of the local market to ask about Collette. Orders started rolling in, but she didn’t have a commercial kitchen to make cookies at scale. So the market owner allowed her to use his kitchen in the evenings and on weekends.
From there, Blake put out the call on social media for volunteers. Groups showed up from eight colleges throughout Massachusetts, including the entire Northeastern baseball team. Every day, 15 people crowded themselves into the tiny market kitchen to help Collette bake her Amazing Cookies.
In just one month, Collette received 7,000 cookie orders. Even with the added help, she knew she needed a real commercial kitchen-one where she could produce cookies in bulk, instead of a batch at a time. That’s when her mom started a GoFundMe.
In just a few months, Collette’s GoFundMe raised enough to help her business secure a real kitchen with a big freezer, fridge, and 80-quart mixer. Now, she can make 5,000 cookies in a single day-and she’s not doing it alone.
To date, Collette has hired 13 people-several of whom have disabilities-to join her ranks. And when demand increases, she has a list of 30 more people she knows who are looking for jobs.
“She’s a little bit like her mother-a bit of a control freak,” says Rosemary, laughing. “She interviews every person twice who’s looking for a job. She’s very particular whom she gives her recipe to, and she carefully trains them.”
A large national market chain recently approached Collette about getting shelf space in their stores, and she has an opportunity to work with a big distributor who will help expand her business even more. All that stands in her way is storage capacity. So now, Collette’s GoFundMe continues to raise money to expand her business even more.
New donations will go toward extra freezer space, distribution materials, and a new mixer that will be dedicated to Collette’s newest creation: a special breakfast cookie. She also hopes to get the word out more through local events and sponsorships-none of which comes cheap.
Above all, Collette hopes to bring more awareness to the lack of job opportunities for people with disabilities. This past World Down Syndrome Day, the United Nations even invited her to speak on the topic and share how Collettey’s Cookies is changing the playing field.
“Collette has woken everyone up a little bit about hiring people with disabilities,” says Rosemary. “82% of people with disabilities can’t find paying jobs, and many are living in poverty. But Collette is proof that just because someone has a labeled disability doesn’t mean they can’t be very effective in the business world.”
With more support, Collette can continue to expand her business and hire more people with disabilities. Ultimately, she hopes to take Collettey’s Cookies nationwide and employ thousands more.
It may sound daunting, but Collette says she’s up for the challenge: