In spite of a weakened economy, Ashe County’s STEP program has successfully launched several micro businesses for local adults who have developmental disabilities.
The Summit Training and Educational Programs (STEP) is a licensed day activity program where participants are engaged in acquiring basic life skills and receiving pre-vocational training.
“STEP is basically a training program for people with developmental disabilities to explore new things - and allows them the opportunity to go into business for themselves if they choose,” said Elizabeth Percival, a staff person who works with STEP.
“My personal goal is to see this population become integrated into the community through their businesses. That way, Ashe County residents can see how gifted this group is,” said Percival.
STEP currently assists with five different microbusinesses with a sixth business on the way. Their most successful business is Marni Saunders’ soap-making business called “Simple Pleasures Soap.”
Saunders purchases all the supplies she uses when making her soaps, which mainly includes fragrances and bases. Although Saunders is assisted with her finances, she keeps the profits from her business.
Saunders says she uses goats milk as a base in her soap because it’s better for her customers’ skin. Her best selling item is her “oatmeal soap,” which is popular with farmers.
“What’s great about STEP is it allows members to be creative and find out what they like doing. It also gives them a sense of pride and ownership with their products and businesses,” said Percival.
Saunders was in a car accident in 1983, and even though she sustained several injuries in the wreck, she said the car accident was almost like a blessing. She said her accident has allowed her to care more for people who have been in similar accidents because she has “experienced it through their eyes.”
Saunders also enjoys singing and writing song lyrics. Saunders’ car accident caused trauma to the left side of her brain. However, the right side of her brain, which inspires creativity and music, wasn’t damaged.
Because of this, Saunders is better able to learn new information by putting it to music. Saunders also became involved in a group called Rebound Writers, created as rehabilitation for people with brain injuries through writing song lyrics.
Rebound Writers helped Saunders in more ways than just her memory. The group also gave her the confidence to appear in front of people and sing. Saunders has performed in several places now, including Washington D.C.
Other examples of micro businesses supported by STEP include a business that makes dog treats and a business that sales books on half.com.
STEP is only one of three programs under Summit Support Services, a private, non-profit corporation. Most of the funding for STEP’s micro businesses comes from “Supported Enrolment,” a Medicaid service available to people with developmental disabilities who follow certain criteria.
According to Summit Support Services’ mission statement, the group “is dedicated to serving adults with developmental disabilities by providing a comprehensive range of opportunities and resources that encourages the culturally appropriate intellectual, social, emotional, vocational, physical, and spiritual growth necessary for each individual to reach his or her fullest potential as citizens of the community.”
Summit Support Services was originally formed in 1977 under the name “Ashe County Group Homes” to provide residential services to adults with developmental disabilities in a group home setting.
In 1999, one resident said she didn’t like telling people she was from Ashe County Group Homes, so the group transitioned to their current name - Summit Support Services.
In addition to STEP, Summit Support Services offers a group living program, which includes two six-bed sites and also offers a supported community living program. This program provides support services to those individuals who live in the community, but still need varying degrees of service to ensure this arrangement is successful.
Summit Support Services is funded through various sources, many of which are grants. Even though they don’t depend on donations from the community, donations allow Summit to provide a broader scope of opportunities to its members.