WARWICK, RI — On Jan. 9, the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council (RIDDC) begins its fifth year providing people with disabilities the resources to be self-reliant business owners and community members, with a growing business education rep and mission.
The New Year marks the fifth the RIDDC has partnered with the RI Department of Labor and Training, fueled by grants from the DLT’s “Real Pathways RI” initiative.
“It went from nobody even knowing about it to now everyone seeing it as a viable alternative for people with disabilities,” said Sue Babin, RIDDC Special Projects Coordinator.
Their reputation has grown locally, as the number of people with disabilities RIDDC works with has grown from 14 in their first year to 33 this year, she said. It’s also growing outside Rhode Island. In fact, Babin said, the RIDDC is now known nationally for their success in helping people with disabilities lead engaging lives participating in their communities.
RIDDC’s work has the attention of Doug Crandell, Senior Consultant at Griffin-Hammis and Project Director at the Advancing Employment Technical Assistance Center, Atlanta, GA, which works with people who have disabilities “to ensure that all can achieve their highest capacity and quality of life,”
“Sue Babin is one of the most creative persons I’ve ever met and instrumental in pushing innovation in Rhode Island and beyond in the area of employment for people with disabilities. Hands down the best self-employment approach in the country,” Crandell said.
RIDDC has also earned recognition at The National Disability Employment Technical Assistance Center (DETAC), which provides evidence-based training and technical assistance to the Administration on Disabilities (AoD) state grantees aimed at improving competitive, integrated employment (CIE) and economic outcomes for individuals with disabilities across the nation.
DETAC’s self-employment brief on RI’s innovative project provides a foundation for other states to establish a self-employment program for people with disabilities. It includes success stories and depicts what true partnerships entail when the key ingredients (funding, support, innovation, determination) of the collaboration are incorporated. It is a helpful resource to establish creative manners to enhance competitive, integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities who have a goal of entrepreneurship.
“Sue is an amazing leader in Rhode Island and leads up a stellar self-employment program for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (IDD) in the state. She has developed many partnerships and has expanded the program substantially over the years. One of the strongest observations from a policy perspective is that when funding streams are brought together in a creative manner while keeping the person at the forefront of core planning seems to enhance a person’s ability in securing the proper resources to succeed as a business owner. Those key ingredients are clearly present in every person’s small business success story in RI. The core of that success and popular notoriety lies in the philosophy of the organization,” said Amy Gonzalez, Project Director at DETAC.
The core of that success and noteworthiness lies in the philosophy of the organization, she said.
“People with disabilities are people first and they have the same needs and interests as anybody else to lead a productive life,” Babin said.
Just the ability to represent themselves with business cards can be a powerfully positive experience, she said. “It makes them feel really proud,” she said, “They feel like part of the community and they’re making money.” More importantly, she said, empowering people with disabilities as business owners also has a profound effect on others’ understanding and perception of the people they’re training.
“This is about getting the general public to see people with disabilities as people,” Babin said.
Following that philosophy, the primary obstacle to establishing the mutual respect that comes with owning and operating a successful business – for themselves and from the community – isn’t ability, but knowledge. Which is where the business coaching comes in.
That coaching provides skills in many areas crucial to success, not just in business, but in everyday life. Those include public speaking, team work, finances, tax preparation and filing, sales, marketing and problem-solving.
The program consists of eight classes, designed for launching, managing and growing a business. Technical assistance is also provided. To register, you can call Babin at 401-523-2300 or Claudia Lowe at 401-738-3960.
“We’ve learned everything we’ve needed, from startup costs, to hiring, our business plan, our social media,” said Sheila Coyne, who began coffee company Red White and Brew with her son, Michael, applying lessons learned during the RIDDC program.
“I liked the business planning the most because it helped me with my marketing plan, costs and social media,” Michael said in a video interview about the program.
Red, White and Brew’s response to the pandemic is a good example of RIDDC-taught skills in use, Babin said. Namely, problem-solving. As brick and mortar stores were forced to close, Red, White and Brew owners Sheila and Michael Coyne pivoted to delivery to keep the business afloat.
“Whether you have a business or not doesn’t matter,” Babin said. “This is important stuff to know. It’s stuff you’re going to use on an ongoing basis.”
For the last two years, the DLT has supported expanding the program to include people without disabilities.
“So now it’s an integrated curriculum, which anybody can attend,” Babin said, which is valuable for everyone, she said, because knowing how to start and run your own business provides independence that many have begun to recognize as not just valuable, but crucial, since the pandemic.
The pandemic left many people shut in without much to do, and no way to support themselves, Babin observed.
“The people had nothing to do,” Babin said, often not even work that would pay their rent and bills. So they began creating their own opportunities.
“You need to pay your bills. You need to think of something. So what I think happened is it generated this spotlight and interest and opportunity for people to look at, ‘Hey, what do I do well, or what hobby to I have or what skill do I have that could potentially be turned into an opportunity to make money for myself, and help support myself and continue to have a good quality of life,’ “ Babin said.
Now, that lesson is being underlined by rising costs that have pushed many into looking for alternative jobs and supplementary jobs to help them survive.
Many have been pondering a crucial question the last few years, she said: “What skills can I use to help myself and continue to have a good quality of life?”
As more people turn to their own entrepreneurial, self-help efforts to help them thrive, vendor shows, once an occasional curiosity, have begun popping up accross the state throughout the year.
High School entrepreneurship education
Babin said she and the RIDDC are also exploring introducing entrepreneurship ideas and practices at the high school level.
“If we can start teaching some business skills to younger folks so they understand the components of business development and get interested in potential entrepreneurship, then we will be also lining people up to move into our program.”
In the RIDDC’s program, Babin said, they’ll get more formal, more in-depth business development training.
Babin sees this expansion of the program as a marketing tool for the RIDDC business classes, which, she says not only provide more in-depth training than you can find in typical business courses, but a collaborative support community of entrepreneurs.
For instance, she said, RIDDC business class alums meet via online Zoom conference every Thursday, and it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve checked in.
“Every Thursday afternoon, we have been meeting, since COVID,” Babin said, so for nearly four years, with only handful of exceptions, the online meeting has been a forum for support and exchanging business ideas.
“Just meet up with people they haven’t seen in a while or say, ‘You know what? Business sucks, I don’t seem to be selling stuff, what can I do? Or, get advice from other business owners and hear about their marketing strategies.”
Business owners also share info on upcoming vendor events or holidays and how your business can market to take advantage of upcoming holidays.
“You’re never on your own with us,” Babin said.
DLT officials have noticed the wider appeal of RIDDC’s business and entrepreneurial education, and their support of those efforts has secured the evolution of the organization’s initiatives.
“If it wasn’t for them seeing this as a great training opportunity, we would still be where we were,” Babin said.
Curriculum and Core Components: RIDDC Business Education Project
- Business Development Series of 8 Business Classes
- Personal Staff Mentor
- 1:1 Business Support from Business Advisor:
- Business Logo, Business Card design and printing
- Marketing ideas, Business planning, Facebook design, Website design, Benefits Planning
- Local News and social media stories on entrepreneurs and their businesses
- Mini-Grant of $250.00, 500.00-1000.00
- Completed personalized Business Portfolio
- Weekly Virtual Entrepreneur’s Forums for ongoing business support
- Local community Vendor Marketplace Events in RI from May through November for Business Owners to sell their products and services
- Support to participate in “Small Business Saturday SHOP RI” in November
- Paid Speakers Bureau opportunities share success stories and inspire other individuals to start their own businesses
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