BOISE, Idaho — There is nothing quite like a candy shop filled with fun treats.
Jeff Wilson, an employee at Sweet Zola's in Boise, Idaho, says the shop has extra happiness sprinkled within.
"They treat me with respect," Wilson said.
Cyndy Radovich started Sweet Zola's.
"We started out as a for-profit and we are now a nonprofit, and we are thriving," Radovich said.
As a behavioral therapist, she fell in love with her clients. She watched them glow when they were given employment opportunities.
"I think it's ridiculous that some of my employees would be considered unable to do a job that anyone else would be able to do. Every single one of my employees, whether they are in a wheelchair, whether they have cerebral palsy, whether they have autism, whether they have Down syndrome, whatever their disability is every single one of them is on the cash register, every single one of them is doing every single job the exact same," Radovich said. "There aren't actual specific jobs that are tailored 100% to individuals with developmental disabilities."
Sweet Zola's is named after Radovich's daughter. She has a different perspective of life.
"I want to stand up for my friends," Zola Radovich said.
Zola's mother says her daughter is an example of how to treat people with disabilities.
"She just knows that people have disabilities, that disability does not mean inability," Cyndy Radovich said.
This shop, with its nearly 20 employees, is an example of what advocates say is needed more across the country.
"There's over 300 programs like the Pierce Program that we have at Boise State across the U.S. and Canada but it's still less than 5% of colleges and universities," said Dr. Jeremy Ford, who teaches early and special education at Boise State University. "The truth is those things that are developed by those individuals or those small groups of people have a limit, they have a ceiling of what they can be without systemic support from communities, including national and state governments."
It's something Cyndy Radovich points out they need.
"We have struggled these three years just to stay open. I think it would be incredible if there were some funding to allow people like myself to open up stores like this," Cyndy Radovich said.
With more support on the local, state and national scale, she says people like her employees could have even larger, more positive impacts on communities.
"We're a starting ground for individuals with developmental disabilities and we are meant to be that first point where individuals start and they train and eventually move on to other careers," she said.