All throughout high school, Collette Divitto had a dream of someday opening her own cookie company.
“So actually, I always loved baking, since I was 4 years old. From high school, I had been taking baking classes,” said Divitto, 31. “It was a hard time for me. I had no friends; I didn’t have a social life. I got bullied, I got picked on. And that’s why I had been taking baking classes.”
Things didn’t improve much, even after Collette graduated from Clemson University in South Carolina. She never considered that her disability with Down syndrome would prevent her from finding a meaningful job. Yet, that sobering realization was apparently the exact motivation that Collette needed to fulfill her childhood dream of going into business for herself, bypassing the naysayers and turning her dream into a reality.
The young woman immediately turned to the only person she trusted, her mom, Rosemary Alfredo. Alfredo instantly became her business advisor, helping Collette start her own cookie business in 2016, along with becoming the CEO of “Collettey’s Cookies”.
The company is based in Boston and has already brought in more than $1 million in revenue over the last five years. However, this amazing woman hasn’t stopped at simply creating a successful business. Collette is also a critically acclaimed children’s author and has been featured within the “Born for Business” periodical about entrepreneurs with disabilities. On top of all that, she also runs a nonprofit group empowering others with disabilities to succeed.
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“There’s lots of amazing things happening,” Divitto said in regards to the opportunities coming her way. She says her favorite part about running her business is hiring people with disabilities.
The nonprofit online group is called Collettey’s Leadership Org and helps people with disabilities prepare for their careers by offering workshops and mentoring. A percentage of proceeds from Collettey’s Cookies, which ships nationwide and to Canada, go towards the nonprofit.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed in 2020. However, Divitto believes that a much larger number would prefer to work if given the opportunity. There’s little doubt that a number of individuals suffering from various disabilities are being discriminated within the workforce.
This photo was taken when I had the honor of being interviewed by WCVB News. I am very grateful that I am able to share my story on large platforms! I never let Down syndrome keep me from making my dreams come true.⠀— Collettey's Cookies (@colletteycookie) August 10, 2021
⠀#ColletteDivitto #DownSyndrome #NeverGiveUp #Entrepreneur pic.twitter.com/baeyDGmFq2
Perhaps even more disheartening are the current federal laws that actually allows employers to pay individuals with disabilities less than minimum wage, if they so desire. This is something Collette is working to change.
Divitto’s currently in the process of creating a petition highlighting the obvious bias and disregard for people with disabilities within the workforce. She plans to present it before Congress in the near future.
“My whole mission is creating jobs for people with disabilities,” she said. “For people who do have disabilities…some want to have a job so badly.”
According to Divitto, Collettey’s Cookies now has 15 employees and about half of them are people with disabilities, and they have a strong leader to look up to. “No matter who you are, you can make a great difference in this world,” Divitto said. “Don’t let people bring you down … Do not focus on your disabilities. You only need to focus on your abilities.”
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” -Sir Winston Churchill.