Dutton Farm and EveryBody: A Shining Light of Hope
July 13, 2021
By Bona Van Dis, originally featured in SBAM’s FOCUS magazine
Jenny Brown knows how to break down barriers and create opportunities. As the co-founder and CEO of Dutton Farm and EveryBody, she’s dedicated her life to helping people with developmental disabilities actively participate in the workforce, their communities and in life.
Dutton Farm began as a place of learning for adults with special needs—where they, including Brown’s sister, could go to connect, develop their skills and find more access to the community. EveryBody soon followed as a business where Dutton Farm participants could physically work, earn money and be contributing members of society. EveryBody is a natural skincare line that sells high-quality body products.
Now with around 40 people employed by both organizations, Brown continues to spread the good word about hiring special needs adults. Success stories abound and many of Dutton Farm’s “graduates” take their skills into the workforce.
The meaningful work at Dutton Farm and EveryBody embodies what we should all see—inclusion benefits everyone. It says it best on the website: “Dutton Farm continues to be a shining light of hope for adults, their families and the community, as they educate and inspire others to see value that persons with unique abilities can contribute.”
Learn more about Dutton Farm at duttonfarm.org and EveryBody at everybodyinc.com.
Focus: Tell readers about Dutton Farm’s beginning.
Brown: Dutton Farm was founded in 2010 for my sister Becca who has Down Syndrome. Dutton Farm is located in Rochester on six acres of land. My mom and I wanted to create a place for Becca and others to find connection and to continue learning.
We opened our doors to five participants and steadily grew over the years both in number and programmatic services. We spent most of our time in the beginning listening and learning from our participants to really understand what was needed and how we could best support their goals and dreams. Through this person-centered approach, our four pillars of programming emerged, which include: workforce development, community access, higher education and virtual learning.
Focus: How did the emphasis on inclusivity shape the way you built your business model?
Brown: Our business model was shaped with mission always prioritized first and foremost. Our foundational values include person-centered planning and self-determination, which means, the person we are supporting directs their own life and we always protect their right to choose.
All too often, individuals with developmental disabilities are left on the sidelines without the opportunity to participate in everyday activities that neuro-typical people take for granted. We work relentlessly to remove barriers, create opportunity and bridge any gaps that may exist so that the individuals we support have all the resources they need to actively participate in their communities and workplaces.
Focus: EveryBody evolved out of a need. Tell us about that inspiring story.
Brown: Our workforce development program works tirelessly to identify potential employment opportunities for individuals that are looking for work. It’s not enough, however, for us to just identify a job opening. We work to ensure that each job seeker is matched to an opening that matches their skill set and interest. Early on in this program, I was working with a gentleman who was diagnosed with a cognitive impairment and paranoid schizophrenia. He was 42 years old and had never had the opportunity for employment or to earn a paycheck. As we worked to develop his plan for the next year, one of his biggest priorities was to find a job.
We immediately got down to business looking for potential work opportunities, but after several months we remained unsuccessful. Due to some additional work experience needed, he was unable to get past the interview stage to being offered a position.
After growing quite discouraged, I was doing some self-reflection and had my “aha moment.” I came to the realization that although I was a strong advocate for the benefits of hiring people with developmental disabilities, I did not have one individual with a developmental disability on my payroll. This spurred me to focus on finding a business opportunity that would showcase how a business can be profitable while being inclusive, and this is how EveryBody Inc. was born. And the gentleman in this story was my very first employee.
Focus: What led you to focus EveryBody around handmade bath and body products?
Brown: I’ve always been a fan of bath and body products, and I happened to have an employee who was an aromatherapist on our payroll at the time who helped us develop our first line of handmade bar soaps that kicked off our business! I struck a deal with a local bed and breakfast to purchase our soaps for his guest rooms and this allowed us to generate enough revenue to hire our first employee.
Focus: People with developmental disabilities have so much to offer. How can more small businesses provide equal opportunities to disabled adults?
Brown: There are many local providers like Dutton Farm that are ready and willing to bridge the gap between the employer and job seeker, so that more individuals with disabilities are included in the workforce. With the current industry-wide staffing crisis, it’s important that we start thinking differently about how we identify, recruit and onboard talent. People with disabilities face an 85 percent unemployment rate and most of these individuals are ready and eager to work! The stigma and barriers that prevent these individuals from working is what Dutton Farm and many others are trying to remove.
Focus: Dutton Farm programs include education, workforce development and community involvement. In what ways do these things prepare disabled adults to enter the workplace confidently?
Brown: Dutton Farm takes an individualized approach for each person in our program. We prepare individuals for work in a variety of ways. We start with a comprehensive assessment that allows each person to explore their gifts and talents, discover different career pathways and decide what kind of career they would like to pursue. From there we customize their learning plan to include goals based on their assessment.
During this time, our job developer begins work on identifying potential employment partners who have job openings that would fit the profile of our job seeker. Our community involvement participation allows each individual to develop their reputational equity as they network and build relationships in the community that could turn into a potential job offer.
Focus: As we face a talent shortage, explain how Dutton Farm can help fill that gap.
Brown: Dutton Farm has access to a large talent pipeline through Michigan Rehabilitation Services and other large government entities for individuals that are looking for work. We receive referrals from these entities to help prep and identify potential places of employment, and then we actively work with the employer and the job seeker to provide a successful transition into the new job opportunity.
Focus: Along with a mission and vision statement, values hold a prominent position on your website. How can other small businesses benefit from sharing their values with their prospective customers?
Brown: Reputation is everything. In this day and age, it’s hard to tell what brands you can trust. Non-profits and for-profit organizations have to stay vigilant and continue to prove their reputation to their constituents through a variety of ways. One of those ways is making sure that foundational values and principals are visible for all to see.
Focus: What key things has SBAM done to help you become a stronger business owner?
Brown: SBAM has provided valuable information that has not only helped us become stronger, but has provided breaking news about key resources that have kept our business afloat. SBAM’s also provided valuable connections and networking opportunities that have helped build and establish our business in a variety of ways.
Bona Van Dis is the editor of Focus.