February 6, 2018
Walking into Andy's Dandys Gourmet Dog Treats in Richmond, Vermont, you're immediately greeted by a smile. It's beaming from the face of Co-Owner, Andrew Whiteford.
"I love my business," says Andrew. "It was 2008 and I was 16."
The now 26 year old has watched his business grow, since it's creation in 2008. Andrew has Down Syndrome and despite challenges, his stellar attitude and ever-present support system has helped him succeed.
"We were thinking about what we were going to do once he got out of high school, and we really didn't know what was on the other side for him," says his mother, Lucie Whiteford. "He loves his dog Rosie, he loves reading recipes and baking with me, so we decided to create a dog treat business."
The bakery now sells about 200 pounds of dog treats per week and is distributed in roughly 200 different locations across the northeast.
"He's the best friend, when I'm working he keeps me motivated and tells me I'm doing a great job," says employee Olivia Comeau. "I have achieved my behavioral instructor, since I'm working to getting a registered behavioral technician certificate, so I can work with other people with intellectual disabilities."
You'll find a mission statement on Andy's Dandys website: "Built on the foundation of creating jobs and meaningful employment for individuals with developmental disabilities." Lucie and her co-partner, Lesha Rasco, who was also Andrew's special education teacher have a goal.
"We're working to grow internship programs for adults, partnering with businesses who have interest in this and have them go out and do different things," says Rasco. "The training would not always be to have a job here, but to learn through this company to figure out what you might want to do."
The training program has been active for four years and has graduated three classes. This, in a state where only 32% of people with cognitive disabilities are part of the workforce. This reflects Vermont's latest data from 2015, which state health officials say is still accurate.
"We have one young lady who has been with us for seven years, delivering treats to a handful of local retail accounts, and she's on the autism spectrum," says Lucie. "We have a young man who has a traumatic brain injury and he does a couple of deliveries for us every month or so."
Andrew overcomes that statistic everyday.
"I think Andrew has three jobs, and some of those jobs are actually a little different than this one," says Rasco.
"If you have someone like Andrew and they're really motivated and want to do something, they'll do it," says Lucie. "You just have to support them and believe they can."
If you're interested in purchasing dog treats, check out their list of gourmet ingredients here: http://andysdandysvt.com/our-juice/