My daughter Martha began her journey with the Deaf-Blind Project at the beginning of 4th grade. It was perfect timing – inclusion was challenging for teachers and they were nervous about the high stakes testing expected at the 4th grade level. Having the Deaf-Blind Project come into the classroom was critical in developing the community of inclusion which became the expectation throughout the educational process for her. I saw the teacher enhancing this community using a wonderful combination of welcoming all learners, and making sure all learners spent their time wisely. Martha started her work at 8:00 AM and other students did the same. Whatever the classroom worked on, Martha worked on. There was a healthy respect within their community of learners and this expectation was very evident outside the classroom as well. I remember a Roller Skating Party in the 4th grade and it was so pleasant to see individual students appreciate one another regardless of student abilities.
Martha continued in inclusive environments throughout her education and the Deaf-Blind Project came in on a regular basis to support teachers, therapists, etc. Sometimes it was troubleshooting such as implementing in Middle School a modification with the English teacher which allowed Martha to participate at a higher level in the general education curriculum. Looking back, I can see how our involvement with the Deaf-Blind Project made such a difference in the quality of Martha’s educational experiences.
When Martha was in high school, everyday I would wait patiently with other parents for our students to be dismissed. One day, a conversation with another mother ended up becoming life changing. She asked me what interested Martha, and I shared that she loved animals, especially her dog; and baking with me in the kitchen. I learned later that Dale Walker had been a Job Coach at one time, and eventually approached Martha about a possible business venture. Ms. Walker had opened a shop in Berea, and she was wondering if Martha would be interested in baking dog biscuits for her shop to be sold October through December. She offered her an easy recipe to try and gave her a timeline to make her decision. If Martha could make them and keep them stocked during those months, she would give her the money from the sales.
So, Martha and I began the baking and development process of a product we felt like could sell. We had many questions along the way. How do we package it? What materials do we use – trips to Office Max with 20% off coupons to purchase stapler, hole punch, labels, wording for the ingredients in packaging – at times, it seemed overwhelming. I approached the Occupational Therapist Martha had at that time and asked her if she could provide suggestions about the packing process. Martha and she worked together on pincer grasp, etc. and Martha was the final creator of the packaging design: pretty see-through bags. Martha worked hard with the pincer grasp to get the dog treats into the bags, and when she dropped one, she picked it up and continued to get it into the bag. She was beginning to appreciate the work process.
Martha fulfilled her deliveries to Dale, and was asked to decide if she wanted to continue. It was a resounding YES! So, we went to Diane at the Deaf-Blind Project, described the 3 month process. How could it work? What I liked was she did not tell me we were crazy!! Instead, she said “of course”, and helped Martha plan and focus on the further development as her Senior Project. Martha had to determine the information component – dog nutrition, safety regulations, marketing. She liked animals, wanted to make them happy, but people with pocketbooks now had to be considered. Martha’s marketing strategy began with having students give samples to their family pets and provide feedback. She gave a PowerPoint presentation at a class for Diane at UK and provided samples for students to give to their pets for feedback. Using that feedback, Martha selected a second recipe – a new one. Since the feedback determined the dogs did not like the the Cheddar recipe, she dropped that one. She continued to use the original recipe of Peanut Butter provided by Dale, and she developed a Parmesan recipe as her Senior Project. Martha then had to conduct a “location sale”, which ended up being at the Madison County Humane Society.
Martha is 25 years old today and a young entrepreneur! She prepares and packages 3-4 batches of dog treats weekly herself. She has regular sales locations now: Best Friends Obedience School in Versailles (just had their 30th Anniversary Celebration). They asked her to modify her dog biscuit – cut them smaller so they could be used as “training treats”. She spends 2 hours in the evening for a sale, usually the 2nd class in a 6 week series, and the 5th or 6th class.
Further information may be found on her Facebook page “Martha Calie” – Berea, Shoot for the Moon Animal Treats Group.