This Bakery Changes Lives for Those With Disabilities

Creating a workplace of empowerment

Dec 21, 2018

Everyone deserves the chance to make an honest living in an environment where they’re treated as an equal. Puzzles Bakery and Cafe in Schenectady, New York, recognizes that there are some people who unfairly are left out of the workplace, or if included, given tasks that don’t allow for them to grow or truly shine.

Their solution? Hiring capable employees who happen to have various forms of developmental disabilities. Even the cafe’s logo - a puzzle piece - represents their unwavering support for autism awareness.

Puzzle’s owner, Sara Mae Pratt, opened the bakery in 2015, after seeing her sister Emily have an especially hard time finding a job due to her autism.

"Here in New York, at age 21, that's when people age out of public education," Pratt said, speaking of resources available to her sister and others. "She was nearing adulthood and we were starting to realize what kinds of opportunities were available for people with developmental disabilities," she told Today.

Pratt added that by opening Puzzles, she wanted to give those with disabilities the right to feel part of the working community and be able to take pride in their work and in themselves.

Pratt gave all of her employees - more than half of whom have some form of disability - a chance to shine, doing tasks that would challenge any worker, such as baking, cooking, taking orders, serving customers, preparing food, etc.

And she’s not just intent on making her employees feel good. Her values of acceptance and tolerance also extend to her customers.

"What I love about Puzzles is everyone can feel really at home and safe here. All of our employees are really understanding and trained. They would completely understand if somebody was vocalizing or maybe rocking back and forth or having a meltdown in a way that might be sort of socially inappropriate elsewhere. It's OK here."

Since opening Puzzles, the 28-year-old owner says she’s received close to 4,000 applications for jobs. Realizing she can’t hire every single applicant, her goal is to franchise the cafe and bakery so she can empower as many people as possible. In the meantime, she hopes other businesses will become inspired by her mission and welcome employees with special needs.

"Take a chance on someone with special needs," she said. "I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. We have some of the most dedicated, loyal, amazing workers here at Puzzles, and I know that all across the country there are people with developmental disabilities who want nothing more than to be given the opportunity to work."

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REBECCA WOJNO, CONTRIBUTOR
Rebecca is passionate about reading, cooking, and learning about people doing good in the world. She especially loves writing about wellness, personal growth, and relationships.

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