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Candy for inclusion: Sweet shop with special-needs employees opens in old Baskin-Robbins

Sweet Zola’s Candy Shop was open for two years in Meridian until it had to close its doors during the pandemic.

Now, Sweet Zola’s is moving to Boise and opening shop this June in the old Baskin Robin’s off of Fairview Ave.

Here you will find “your favorite childhood sweets” but Sweet Zola’s isn’t just a candy shop, it’s a place for people with developmental disabilities to gain work experience.

Owner Cyndy Radovich, is a behavioral therapist with a masters degree in autism.

“Ihave worked with multiple clients who have such potential to work but never had the opportunity because employers wouldn’t give them the chance,” she said.

Employment opportunities

Zola and an employee work the front desk in old Meridian shop. Photo via Cyndy Radovich.

Her experience in counseling led her to open Sweet Zola’s. The shop, named after her daughter, gives people with intellectual and physical disabilities the opportunity to learn, earn money and be a part of an inclusive and supportive team.

“I want my employees to understand that they are capable of doing anything that they put their minds to,” Radovich said. “They need to know that their disability does not define them.”

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities had an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent in 2020. This compares to the overall unemployment rate of 7.9 percent.

“I opened the shop so that other employers can see that people with disabilities are capable of employment and can create a positive work experience for everyone around them,” Rodovich said. “I want them to be prepared to leave Sweet Zola’s to find another job or career that suits them.”

Growing team

Radovich said she is about the start the hiring process but will need funds to cover the cost of paying her employees.

“I am hoping the get enough donations to cover enough to hire about 10 employees, but we are waiting to see what our fundraising efforts bring in,” she said.

She will also be looking for volunteers to work alongside her employees.

“Originally, we started out as a for profit because I didn’t want my employees to be seen as a “charity”, Radovich said. “I wanted them to be seen as any other employee.”

However, Radovich was working another full-time job just so that she could pay her employees.

“We were not bringing in enough customers, as candy is a VERY hard sell, but as a non-profit, we are able to apply for grants to build our business and come up with other business ideas to help sustain for the future,” Radovich said.

Funds raised will now help pay employees, replenish the candy stock and help with overhead costs at the new Boise location.

“Our employees are amazing and genuine.Each day, they come to work with gratitude in their hearts.”

For updates on Zola’s opening and how you can apply, donate or volunteer, head to the shop’s Facebook Page.

Anna Daly Gamboa - BoiseDev reporterhttps://boisedev.com/author/annadalygamboa/
Anna Daly Gamboa is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-wining former producer, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

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