Melinda Letts smiles and greets everyone who comes near the compact workshop where she creates scented wax melts and candles. She eagerly hands out business cards promoting her company, Mindy’s Melts, and pops the top off of new wax melts to share the fragrances she loves.
She's created these candle by melting wax in a saucepan on a hot plate balanced on a folding table, and, after meticulously checking the temperature, Letts adds color and fragrance. She transfers the hot wax into a sturdy metal pitcher with a spout. From there, Letts pours the hot wax into plastic molds to solidify into melts or into glass jars to become traditional candles with wicks.
None of that may seem unusual, but the people supporting Letts are proud of how she has transformed. When Letts arrived at Do-All Inc. about two years ago, she had frequent long, emotional outbursts. She interrupted people often, making conversations difficult. She had little understanding of money.
Today, she runs her own business with the help of a job coach: handling routine banking, buying the supplies, making the candles, and selling them at two locations in downtown Bay City.
Such transformations are at the heart of Do-All Inc., an organization which serves developmentally-disabled people and anyone with a barrier to employment. Most often, the barriers are mental, but the agency also helps people with physical injuries or limitations, says Do-All President and CEO Chris Girard.
In 1952, Do-All was created to train and employ people with disabilities and for years, it was the primary employer of the people it trained.
But 2018, the goal became much larger. The difference today is that Do-All no longer employs most of the people it trains. Instead, the agency places workers at businesses throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region, and Girard estimates that at any given time, Do-All is helping about 400 people.
“We want to be known as the agency that helps people reach their employment goals,” Girard said.
Do-All provides help anywhere along the path to employment. Some people need assistance preparing for an interview or creating a resume. Others need a coach to help them learn the ropes of a new job. Regardless of their needs, Girard says, workers achieve economic and personal independence, while businesses discover employees who are prepared and motivated to work.
The Do-All headquarters is in a grocery store turned into Cat’s Meow Thrift Shop at 1465 W. Center Road in Essexville. Do-All also operates a thrift shop and the Do-Art Studio & Gallery at 810 Washington Ave. in downtown Bay City. In another downtown location, artists re-shape furniture into works of art that are sold inside the stores.
Mindy Letts and her business "Mindy's Melts" is part of Do-All's micro-enterprises program, and what she’s gained from the business goes far beyond the art and science of making candles.
Letts says the best part of the business isn’t the income or independence it brings. Instead, Letts says she loves making candles for her mom and sister. She also discovered she enjoys teaching others how to make the candles. It’s helped her build valuable interpersonal skills.
Her job coach, Beth Lincoln, says Letts has learned trust and patience through work. She no longer has outbursts. She understands and follows social norms, shaking hands, exchanging business cards, and engaging in conversation. She enjoys that her job lets her meet other business owners. In the evenings, she tells her mom and sister about her day.
Sharron Brand, a Job Development Specialist and Social Worker at Do-All, says Letts has a unique charisma that helps her market her product.
Linda Cassar and Ashley Brandon said the Artist in Training program – which is where Letts first worked at Do-All – has transformative powers, saying that art helps people grow and discover their individual capabilities, desires, and emotions.
In the beginning, Letts wouldn’t go anywhere. She was uncomfortable even at Do-All. But last April, she enthusiastically participated in Earth Day activities at the Midland Center for the Arts. She helped other people with art projects and sat down to a group lunch.
Cassar says Letts was similar to many adults with disabilities. Typically, parents fall into the habit of helping their children with disabilities well into adulthood. Holding a job, though, breaks those routines. Through work, individuals discover how much they can do for themselves. Cassar said they learn new skills, opening up a new world of choices and opportunities.
HOW TO HELP
State and federal initiatives support Do-All Inc. programs, but the agency still needs help from the community. To learn more, visit the Do-All website at http://www.doallinc.org/
and click on the “Get Involved” button.
HOW TO GET HELP
If you have a disability and would like help finding employment, contact your local Michigan Rehabilitation Services office. In Bay City, the phone number is (989) 894-6300. If you are a customer of Bay Arenac Behavioral Health or a private insurance company, please contact your Supports Coordinator.