Ten years ago, Mary Ann Nolan and Leigh Corrigan had a novel idea about creating a business that would employ adults with intellectual disabilities, engaging them in the community and providing a sense of pride for their efforts.
That vision took shape around a small a dog treat business, led by Corrigan and Nolan’s daughters Maggie and Elizabeth, founding bakers who happen to be best friends. Dubbed “Waggies by Maggie and Friends,” after a decade of growth the bakery now produces up to 3500 all-natural bones each day.
At an anniversary open house this week, Nolan expressed pride in just how far the non-profit organization has come since launching in November 2007. “We did not think ten years ago that we would be here today. We said, ‘Let’s see where this takes us, and here we are!” said Nolan.
The party on Tuesday was all about celebrating the abilities of the bakers, who were jobless before they came to “Waggies.” Members of the board, retailers, families all attended the open house.
As positions become available at the bakery, Waggies works with local agencies who provides services to adults with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities who specialize in connecting individuals to volunteer and work opportunities.
The nonprofit organization moved three years ago to a permanent, rent-free industrial kitchen at the Elk’s Lodge in North Wilmington. Four days a week employees can be found baking, weighing, and packaging bone treats. They consider themselves the stewards of the kitchen, and employees work hard to maintain the equipment and keep the area clean.
Waggies has become a thriving online business delivering all over the country, with customers as far as San Francisco, CA and points in Florida. Plus, a franchise now operates in Allentown, PA, where Waggies has partnered with a transition program for 18-21-year-olds that bake, package and market their biscuits. Workers produce bones and bits in a variety of flavors, including peanut butter, sweet potato and chicken-flavor.
Nolan says the employees require equipment adaptations, but they are all hard workers who are skilled at repetitive tasking and seeking help when necessary.
Since the launch of the business, 17 bakers have been gainfully employed, earning minimum wage while enjoying friendships and responsibilities that most of us take for granted. But Nolan says it’s much more than that. “Their work is also about pride because they see Waggies on the shelves in the grocery stores, and they hear people say, ‘My dog loves Waggies,’ and they’re a part of it.”