Boy with Down’s syndrome inspiration for specialist bakery

Henry

Where on earth is her son with Down syndrome going to find a job one day? That’s what happened to Lynne Rutherfoord from Cape Town four years ago after Joshua (now 25) finished his school career.

This is something that is a concern for every parent of children with intellectual challenges. Work is already so rare today, what more for young people with mental disabilities.

“After Joshua’s birth, my husband, John, and I talked a lot about creating a job opportunity for him as well as possible housing when he gets older,” says Lynne.

“It had to be something that we could extend to other young adults with intellectual disabilities as they are often lonely after finishing their school career.

“We started Down with Dough, a non-profit organization where we only produce gluten- and lactose-free products, in January 2019 with the help of a similar organization, which we were therefore able to duplicate in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town.”

“After four years, Joshua is still happily working at Down for Dough. He also found work elsewhere where he works once a week for a three-hour shift at Bootleggers in Durbanville. They got this opportunity through their friendship with the manager who was willing to give Joshua a chance.

“The staff do their best with taking orders, setting tables and other necessary tasks. Here he is so popular that some customers come specifically on the day when he is working.”

Lynne and they also have two daughters, Tayla and Monique, who will soon give birth to her second baby. You will not easily find a prouder uncle than Josh. He likes to proclaim that he is an uncle.

Diagnosis

Since Lynne was pregnant with Josh at 34 and there was no “high risk” surrounding her pregnancy, she did not undergo an amniocentesis test. Abortion is against their principles anyway.

It wasn’t until Josh was born that they found out he had Down syndrome.

Since then, Lynne has not returned to official work, but has served on various charitable boards and volunteered with various organizations.

One big family

In addition to people with Down syndrome, Down with Dough also provides employment opportunities to people with other mental disabilities. They have 13 members who come to work on different days and 5 or 6 at a time.

“We cater for people with various intellectual disabilities, but 50 percent of our members have Down syndrome. Everyone functions at different levels, whether with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy or other mental disabilities.

At Down with Dough, they’re all like one big happy family.

“We encourage our members to always be friendly and to do their best as a team. They get along well with each other and they learn skills that encourage individual growth in a busy environment where people also care about each other.

“We encourage them to challenge themselves when certain tasks are given to them and to provide assistance to others where necessary. This contributes to them having a purpose in life and to being able to achieve success.

“They always look forward to coming to work and can’t wait for their allowance at the end of each month.”

Lynne says that depending on their challenges, they are exposed to all tasks in the bakery such as weighing ingredients, rolling out and cutting the dog treats, packing brownies, sealing the packages and applying labels. They also perform rotating tea break duties, washing up, drying and general tasks such as sweeping, mopping and cleaning.

“Some need more assistance than others, but we always encourage them to improve their skills.

Employment opportunities for the mentally disabled

Down with Dough initially employed young people between 18 and 30, but the need is so great that they now also have older members. Two work full time with them and another two have found work in the labor market.

But how hard is it to get a job in the public sector?

“This is one of our biggest challenges. After the pandemic, work is scarce, even more so for young adults who are intellectually limited. We intend to change this and 2024 is the year in which we will focus even more on placing more of our employees elsewhere and also on expanding our life skills programme,” says Lynne.

“The most important thing here is to establish continuous support between the new employer and the young adults, especially during the first year.”

When their members are placed elsewhere, they try to maintain an open relationship with employee as well as employer.

“Once they are appointed, we visit them monthly to offer moral support with any concerns.

“We also offer assistance with challenges around adjustments, changes and preparation of the tasks.”

Gluten-free and lactose-free

Down with Dough bakes exclusively lactose- and gluten-free products and uses lactose-free milk and yogurt, and gluten-free flour for this.

“But many people who are not allergic to gluten and lactose also enjoy our products. Our double chocolate brownies are delicious and are regularly purchased by our loyal customers.”

Although there is currently only one branch of Down with Dough (namely in Durbanville), they hope to later open more branches in other suburbs in Cape Town so that more of the increasing demand for work for young adults with intellectual disabilities can be met.

They also produce gluten-free dog biscuits which are becoming increasingly popular among dog owners because they have a positive effect on skin irritations and stomach health.

“We started with the dog biscuits during the pandemic in 2020 when we took over production from another non-profit organisation. Unfortunately they had to close their doors.

“This business, as well as our own Barking Bites brand, has grown tremendously.”

Feedback

Lynne says the feedback they get is excellent. “Our parents are very appreciative of the fact that we create a safe working environment for their children. They also see it as an opportunity for growth, and for a more independent way of life.”

It is going ahead with the organization gaining increasing support from the community. Almost 95 percent of their customers live within a radius of 10 kilometers from the bakery.

They mainly supply coffee shops, restaurants, schools and churches in the Durbanville area. Only 10 percent of their sales are to individuals.

“More and more people are knocking on our door after hearing about us from others. Our local paper, the Tigerburgerwe are also very kind.

Myths

Lynne says the myths surrounding children with Down syndrome are that they will never be able to accomplish anything.

“That’s untrue. Josh is such a jovial young man and has a big impact on people who cross his path.

“They are crazy about being included with their families, friends and the larger society.

“With early intervention, their intellectual abilities can improve. Although they learn at a slower pace, constant repetition and encouragement will make a difference.”

Lynne’s advice for anyone who has children with intellectual disabilities is to focus on their strengths from an early age.

“Don’t underestimate their abilities and let them guide you, but also watch out for them taking chances.

“Trust your intuition and be an ambassador for your child. Try not to feel taken down on behalf of your child, because people sometimes act unsympathetically out of ignorance.

“Think of a solution such as having the child wear a T-shirt with the words; Please be nice. My name is Xxxx XXX and I have autism or Down syndrome or whatever – especially if they don’t have verbal abilities.

“Join a support group. There are many similarities between various intellectual challenges.

“Also make time for yourself regularly and ensure that your glass is ‘full’.”

Participants say:

Roelie (20) autistic: “I like seeing my friends here and being part of a team.”

Sarah (20) autistic: “Everyone is so nice and funny.”

Joshua (25) Down syndrome: “I like sweeping, washing up, drying and baking the brownies. I love my friend Aidan and we laugh a lot.”

Funds

Funds are always needed as a non-profit organization cannot (or will) always rely on government funds. Those who want to make donations can get a tax certificate because it is tax deductible.

They also offer an annual golf day which creates significant funds for them which are used for additional expenses during the year, such as buying additional equipment that they did not budget for.

People who want to make donations can also contribute to the life skills program.

Down with Dough does not have a shop with a front view and works strictly according to orders by e-mail or by WhatsApp. Send an email to hello@downwithdough.co.za or visit them on Facebook or Instagram for more information.