FAIRFIELD, Conn. (WTNH) — Many parents struggle to find meaningful employment for their disabled children once they’re adults, but a Fairfield non-profit is tackling this issue.
“I’ve been working here since December,” says Chris Lopes, a 21 year old with Down Syndrome, as he stocks shelves at a store in Fairfield that specializes in selling dog biscuits. “I love dogs, they’re my favorite.”
But Woofgang and Co. isn’t your average shop, it was created by parents of young adults with disabilities.
“About three years ago, a bunch of moms got together and said, ‘Let’s start thinking about what happens post high school,'” explains co-founder Kelly Maffei.
“We’ve got to make that inclusive environment continue into the adult years and we’ve got to welcome them into the employment arena,” adds co-founder, Kris Burbank.
So, they founded a non-profit – with a store – that sells pet items and dog biscuits made from scratch by the 20-plus Woofgang employees with special needs who are receiving valuable vocational training.
“There’s a natural attraction between our kids and their pets,” says co-founder Amy Stern.
The lessons are far reaching – affecting customers young and old.
“Maybe for the first time they’re seeing them as capable young people in a way they’ve not seen them before,” says Burbank.
In the commercial kitchen and the store – the employees experience feelings of self worth and confidence. “When I’m here, I feel more independent than ever,” says Lopes.
“We all know that work is much more than a paycheck,” says Burbank.
The atmosphere provides purpose and positivity all around.
“Everybody leaves with a smile and that’s what we like,” says Maffei.
The founders of Woofgang & Co. hope the concept inspires others and serves as a model for many more communities.