Jennifer Ricci never thought she’d run a cookie factory.
The Dayville mother of two completed a theater degree at Regent’s College in London and worked for Nippon Trust on Wall Street before returning to Connecticut. Back home, she opened a fitness business and bought a log cabin on a lake.
To supplement her income, Ricci took a part-time job at The Arc Quinebaug Valley. Within three weeks, she was working full time.
“This field changes in a second-and-a-half,” she says. Ricci believes her initial work as a direct support professional serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) provided excellent training for her current job running The Arc Eastern Connecticut’s microbusinesses: The Emporium (thrift shop); Donation Station (a recycling venture); Lawn Crew; and The Cookie Factory.
“If you serve people with IDD, and if you have an aptitude for that ever-changing landscape,” Ricci says, “there really is no better preparation for running a business than that.”
Now Director of Community Enterprise for The Arc Eastern Connecticut, Ricci’s ears perked up when The Arc Quinebaug Valley and The Arc New London County merged in 2019. “When you said you wanted to expand The Cookie Factory nationwide, I said to myself: ‘I want to do that!’”
After COVID-19 struck, Ricci worked with The Arc ECT’s leadership to pivot two of four microbusinesses to modest profitability despite the pandemic. Currently, she is leading a buildout of The Arc’s cookie factory in Woodstock, aiming for profitability there, too. Each of The Arc’s four micro businesses offers vocational training at minimum wage for people with IDD in preparation for community employment and independent career paths.
“I’m just really excited at our progress,” Ricci says. “This is going to be someplace the community will know and respect.”
Ricci insisted that the architect include two large windows with a view into the cookie works. “The purpose of keeping those two big windows is so people can walk up to those windows and see what we do. I’m very passionate about what I do. I am grateful that so many opportunities have been offered to me.”
In turn, Ricci plans to pay it forward.
Kathleen Stauffer is chief executive officer of The Arc Eastern Connecticut. For information on The Arc, go to www.TheArcECT.org. For more articles by this author visit www.kathleenstauffer.com.