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Kids With Special Needs To Be Entrepreneurs In New Soap Business

By Howard Ludwig | March 16, 2017 5:18am
 Jarelly Bentacourt and Alexander Morales package bath bombs for I Am Who I Am. The charity has launched a new business venture that aims to give special needs students an opportunity to become entrepreneurs.
Jarelly Bentacourt and Alexander Morales package bath bombs for I Am Who I Am. The charity has launched a new business venture that aims to give special needs students an opportunity to become entrepreneurs.
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BEVERLY — Holly Simon has higher aspirations for her 14-year-old son than simply bagging groceries — a job often suggested for Nate, who has Down syndrome.

The Beverly mom thinks Nate and others like him might be better suited for a career in sales, distribution or even as a company executive. And Simon is working to create such opportunities.

She'll launch her new bar soap and bath bomb business March 24 at Cork & Kerry in Beverly. There is no cover charge for the launch party from 6-9 p.m. at 10614 S. Western Ave. A cash bar will be available.

The bath products will be sold for $7 each and branded using Simon's I Am Who I Am logo. She launched the effort in January 2012 with the intent of training doctors, nurses and other hospital staff to welcome all newborns into the world with the same enthusiasm — regardless of their abilities.

 Anthony Forde, 25. (left) has been named the global messenger for Holly Simon's new I Am Who I Am business venture. The company will initially sell bar soap and bath bombs with the help of children and adults with special needs.
Anthony Forde, 25. (left) has been named the global messenger for Holly Simon's new I Am Who I Am business venture. The company will initially sell bar soap and bath bombs with the help of children and adults with special needs.
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"It started to erase the 'I'm sorry' from the delivery room," said Simon, who experienced this firsthand when Nate was born on Nov. 26, 2003.

The charity born from this lost moment continues to work toward ending such negative reactions. It also distributes baby blankets to newborns born just a bit different at both Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn.

Simon will continue to reach out to such parents to let them know they are not alone. But she believes her new soap business is the next step. And as the company begins, she envisions children with special needs selling her products at craft fairs, stores and via social media.

The salesmen and women will receive $1 for each item they sell and $1 will go back to I Am Who I Am. Any additional proceeds will be used to grow the soap company as well as buy baby blankets, Simon said.

"It has to work and it will. Because it gives opportunity where there wasn't opportunity," Simon said.

To start, she's partnered with a manufacturer in Michigan City, Ind. to produce all of the soap products. She's also working with students at Ray Graham Training Center High School in the South Loop.

These students and others are involved in packaging the soaps as well as other parts of the company's rollout. In fact, Simon hopes to have a hand lotion for sale by Mother's Day, May 14.

"It starts with a dream, and my dream is to help as many kids as possible," Simon said.

She's modeling the company initially after such home-based businesses as Avon, Mary Kay and Girl Scouts cookie sales. But the long-term vision is much larger. Simon sees a whole factory staffed with special needs employees — from the packaging department to the front office.

"We all have something to offer," Simon said. "We want this to be a source of pride for everybody's child on every level."

She's long thought about Nate's life after graduation and set up a meeting through Facebook to speak with other parents with similar concerns. To her surprise, 50 people attended.

This proved there was a need for such a company. And in five years, she envisions a storefront and at least 50 employees as well as additional products such as lip balms and more.

She said most kids in these situations just want an opportunity to try to work at various levels of a company. But opportunities are scarce, particularly for jobs beyond entry-level work. And then, chances for advancement are slim.

"I want to get 1 million kids and show them 1 million opportunities," she said.