Community Access for Adults with Developmental Disabilities with Jenny Brown of Dutton Farms - Ep 28

This episode of the Social Enterprise Alliance Podcast aired on Tuesday, September 12th. This episode can be found on Apple Podcast and Spotify.

0:00:00.0 Lauren: Welcome Jenny. Thank you so much for being on our podcast today.

0:00:03.4 Jenny: Super glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

0:00:05.5 Lauren: Yeah, we're so glad to have you and Dutton Farms and EveryBody by Dutton Farms have been longtime members of SEA. So we're really excited to kind of get to dive into your story and what the things that you're working on and just hear more about all of that today. So first of all, I would love to just hear more of your story and how you first got involved in social enterprise.

0:00:27.4 Jenny: Yeah, absolutely. So upon graduation from high school for me, I had lots of opportunity and I was a graduate with a bachelor's in political science and sociology and enrolled in law school. And I have a sister who has Down Syndrome and her future just looked so much different than mine.

0:00:48.4 Jenny: She didn't have the opportunity to go to college, could not get a job, and really couldn't access her community just to see her friends and interact. So it got to the point where I dropped out of school and formalized a nonprofit to create meaningful inclusion for my sister and others that were experiencing the same types of things and we were really emphatic about building sustainability around our nonprofit. And throughout that I came across an incredible book called Give Work by Leila Janah. And it just opened up my mind to this whole idea of social entrepreneurship and I devoured everything that I could find on social enterprise and that was kind of the inspiration for me to start our own social enterprise, which became EveryBody by Dutton Farm.

0:01:37.5 David: Yeah, I love that book and it definitely had an impact on me as a social entrepreneur as well. So that's really cool to hear how a book like that can have that kind of impact. So tell us more then about Dutton Farm's programming and the opportunities and what you're trying to create then.

0:01:55.4 Jenny: Yeah, so technically we are a nonprofit in the behavioral health system and we have three core service areas, workforce readiness and adult education. So individuals who graduate from high school still have the opportunity to continue learning, like all of us do. I have learned so much since high school and we need to acord people with disabilities the same opportunities for higher education. So that's our first core service area. Secondarily is access to community, removing barriers to interacting in our communities in meaningful ways, volunteerism, building relationships, consumerism, those kinds of areas where we're intentionally accessing our community. And then third, workforce development. So removing barriers to the workplace and providing those wraparound supports that are needed so that individuals you know, are successful in employment and keeping their jobs but they're satisfied with their employment. So really making sure that match is good. So we're really intentional about making sure that we're understanding the needs of our employment partners and also we're making sure we're spending enough time with the individual who is seeking employment so they have time to explore their gifts, learn their skillset and what they love to do, understanding their stamina, social emotional acuity, all of those things. And then matching them to the right fit in employment to make sure that they feel successful and are happy and satisfied with their work.

0:03:20.5 Lauren: That's great. That's awesome. So do you work then with staffing agencies or are these individuals staffed within the Dutton Farm organization?

0:03:31.4 Jenny: So we receive our referrals through our contract within the behavioral health system. So Medicaid dollars start at the federal level and are trickled down through the state level and then local. And then we contract with the local community mental health authority. And all of the individuals with developmental disabilities who need services are then referred to us by these agencies. That's really where the individuals start in our program.

0:03:58.4 Lauren: Awesome, awesome. And what do these core services look like on a day-to-day basis for you and for the individuals?

0:04:08.4 Jenny: So it really just depends. One of the things that we're really proud of is there's no individual that we'll say no to because they're too high needs. So for an individual it might be a huge success that they came that day. Their anxiety might be so high that just leaving their house and being brave enough to face the stimulation and all of the different sensory inputs is a huge accomplishment. So for them it's just showing up for the day, engaging in some horticultural training, agriculture, animal therapy, animal care and just that socialization and teamwork that's really important as soft skills for employment. For someone else it might be that they're sensory seeking, right? So they come for the day and they're ready to get out in their community and maybe go to the library to volunteer. Or we partner with a local food pantry delivering meals to seniors or going to a local gym for exercise and fitness for somebody else that might just be getting up and going to work. And we send a job coach out just to make sure that, do you have enough food for your lunches that day? Is your transportation intact? Do you need any support while at work? So we have a whole spectrum of individuals that we support and we're really proud of that. So whether an individual needs minute by minute support or they just need someone to check in with them while they're on the job.

0:05:29.4 David: Yeah, that's perfect. You kind of just answered my question, like how you show up with each person's unique need in the environment. The comparison I have, my wife teaches English as a second language and everyone immediately assumes, oh well you must speak Spanish. She goes, actually I don't have Spanish but I have 12 other languages in the same classroom. So it's really interesting just to hear, you know, how you are approaching that and really trying to keep an open mind. I would imagine there are times when that is extra challenging, you know, how do you address that at that moment?

0:06:01.5 Jenny: There are challenges every single day. This is really hard on glamorous work a lot of times. But it really is a cultural thing. We spend the time to really hire the right people because I'm one person and can only do so much and definitely don't want it to be about me in any way. But we hire such a great team, there's about 55 of us now and if they buy into the mission that every single person matters and is valuable and deserves the opportunity to be successful, then those challenges are not impossible barriers. They just take a little bit of extra thought, a little bit of extra patience to figure out a new pathway around the barrier. And then when you get around it, it just brings you closer together as a team and you can lay your head on the pillow at night feeling really satisfied that you have made a real impact in the world.

0:06:54.5 Lauren: Yeah, that's wonderful. That's beautiful. And I think, yeah, especially when you are in work that is, as you said, challenging and unglamorous, having that team culture is so, so, so important. And so it's really awesome to see how you've established that within Dutton Farm. Another question for you and you touched on this a little bit earlier, but at what point in the development of Dutton Farm did you decide to establish the social enterprise angle? And I'd love to hear little bit of the story of how that developed.

0:07:24.5 Jenny: Absolutely. So I had the privilege of working with this incredible man, his name is Marty and he had paranoid schizophrenia and a cognitive impairment and in his person-centered plan that we do for every person served every year and develop the goals for that next year, he indicated that he wanted to find a job. And so in his plan, one of the goals was employment and we were unsuccessful for about three to four months and I was discouraged. We were unable to find employment for him. And then I had this really convicting moment. I was a big champion for employment of people with disabilities, the moral in business case for the value and inclusive hiring. I was preaching it all the time, but when you looked at my payroll, there was no one with the developmental disability on my payroll. So I had to find a way to put my money where my mouth was and find a model that showed that a business can thrive and be profitable while being intentionally inclusive.

0:08:23.5 Jenny: So he was my first candidate and that's about the same time that I learned about Leila Janah and Give Work. And that kind of informed all of the decisions that I made early on. And so I had someone on my staff that was an aromatherapist and together we developed a few body products and that's kind of what launched us. You know, when you're dedicated to something, you just find a way. I went to a local bed and breakfast and pitched my idea. Our bar soaps, which were one of our first products, were like five times as expensive as what they were currently buying, but I still somehow convinced him to go with us. He was our first employee and it just continued to grow from there. And now we have a great location in downtown Pontiac here in Michigan. We're approaching year five and thriving.

0:09:10.4 David: That's awesome. I love that so much because sometimes it's the problems or challenges that we face where we can also find our solutions. As a business owner that's absolutely true. For many of our listeners they know, but I own a coffee roasting business in Cincinnati and you know, when we're thinking through adding diversity in our supply chain and in our core team members, it was really fun to partner with a local organization to help us staff someone with a disability because we had a need that they could fill and they thrived in that and they eventually graduated into it. I actually just ran into her mother last week for the first time in a couple years. And so to see where she's grown by just looking at things a little bit differently and creating that opportunity for someone was really something that was pretty special. So I love how you expanded that into now something five years in really, really cool. Congratulations. What does the future look like with both Dutton Farm and EveryBody Look, you know, tell me about where you think this is all heading.

0:10:14.5 Jenny: Yeah, so we're really excited to have just launched our second location in a neighboring county, Macomb County and received a capacity building grant from Macomb County Community Mental Health to build out that site. And then we're also launching a coffee shop in downtown Pontiac alongside where Bath & Body company is to create more hours of employment and establish more jobs in a different industry, diversify our revenue streams so that we are more established and able to have a bigger footprint and bigger impact. We have a waiting list now of over 50 people here in Oakland County and 15-20 people in Macomb County. So we're also building additional community space on our current headquarters location. We've got a lot going on, so we're excited to get this second location, if you will, under our belt and then plan to launch other locations all around counties in Michigan who need our services.

0:11:09.4 Lauren: So exciting, so exciting. Well congratulations on that launch and everything that's to come. That's really, really exciting. Yeah, and I also know that recently Dutton Farms was verified by the Social Enterprise World Forum. So you have that certification now and Social Enterprise Alliance is actually partnering with Social Enterprise World Forum to kind of help, you know, move this verification even into more of a mainstream here in the United States. So I'd love to hear just a little bit about your experience of being verified and what that's been like for you and your organization.

0:11:44.5 Jenny: It's really important for us to be in a social entrepreneurship community and also to separate ourselves from other businesses that maybe have a CSR statement, a corporate social responsibility statement, or some kind of like small percentage of philanthropic dollars that go back into community efforts that really establishes us that everything we do goes back to mission. That we are a business that exists to solve complex social problems, right? And that's what our business is all about. There's not just a small percentage that we decide to give back. So from an optic standpoint, from a hiring standpoint, it is really clear upfront that we're a social enterprise and we're all about accomplishing good and using business to make the world a better place.

0:12:33.5 David: Yeah, that's really fantastic. I'm gonna ask this question. You may have already answered it because you shared a number of stories at this point, but I'd love to hear just like a success story that sticks out in your mind as your favorite moment and you're like, this is why I do the work that I do. This is why I put in the hours and the energy into what you're doing.

0:12:53.5 Jenny: There's so many that keeps me going every single day, but just recently we were able to provide an opportunity for a young woman who is non-verbal and has Down Syndrome and had been denied services for six years. Every single organization that the family sought for support said it's too much. We're not equipped to serve somebody with this high of need. Somebody called me and said the parents are at their wits' end. And this young woman hadn't left her house almost in six years. So we said, yeah, absolutely bring her by and we'll do everything we can. And I had a team, our operations was building a special sensory area for her. Our finance team was trying to figure out how we could get her her own one-on-one staff. Our program team was adapting the curriculum to make her successful and she showed up and the first few days were incredibly, incredibly challenging and not one person even batted an eye.

0:13:54.3 Jenny: I get emotional even thinking about it because they all in a moment knew what was most important. Paperwork waited, fundraising waited. It was just the success of this individual that had been forgotten by the rest of the world. And now she is outside all of the time participating in our horticulture, in our animal care and is making friends and is finding success and feeling the value and building real authentic relationships that are. I am so, so proud to provide to her. And then one other real quick one, we hired somebody at our social enterprise and he was 45 and this was his first job ever. So if you think about it, two, three decades unemployed, his first paycheck, he was able to take his mom out to coffee and his mom was so emotional thinking my 45 year old son who I've always been responsible for, had this beautiful sacred moment being able to take care of his mother. And it was a beautiful moment that we were able to help provide.

0:14:52.5 David: That's so cool. Both of us.

0:14:53.4 Lauren: Yeah, I know. I'm like getting choked up just hearing about it. It's like so powerful and the fact that you're able to like step into that gap for people who have been otherwise overlooked and for someone to say, I got you. When up until that point they've only ever heard this is too much, this is too hard. Like, that's just so moving. So thank you for the work that you're doing. It's amazing.

0:15:20.5 David: Well, I know that there's gonna be a lot of people that want to be in touch with you. I literally ran into someone earlier today that is gonna be reaching out to you. So can you let us know where our listeners can find you and your products?

0:15:35.4 Jenny: Yeah, absolutely. So our nonprofit website is and then we have a little shop button in the corner of that website that if you click that, it brings you over to our social enterprise website, which is EveryBody by Dutton Farm. And that website is And then for me, it's my full name,

0:16:05.4 David: Great. Jenny, thanks again for being on and we really just appreciate the work that you're doing, like Lauren said, and sharing your story. And I know that so many of us are gonna listen and be able to think a little bit differently about how we can also use social enterprise to impact maybe a different segment of the population. So this has really been fantastic.

0:16:26.5 Jenny: Thanks for the opportunity. I really appreciate it. It's been nice.