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Hannah’s Happy Hands – Finding the Joy of Work

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — October 20, 2020 — 5 min read
Developing her own small business has brought Hannah Strunck joy and a sense of purpose. She’s the entrepreneur behind Hannah’s Happy Hands, a small business that crafts homemade soaps with different shapes, colors, scents, and textures.

Embarking on this journey toward self-employment has changed Hannah’s life. With the support of her parents and partners in the community, this enthusiastic young woman is now unstoppable.

“I feel joyful. I am happy,” said Hannah, describing her mood as she gets ready to work every day.

Hannah’s diagnosis of autism, far from being an obstacle, has been her biggest source of strength, creativity, and determination.
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Below, Hannah’s mother, Ruth Singer-Strunck, shares more about her daughter’s initiative and what employment represents in Hannah’s life – today and in the future. She also shares advice for parents and advocates who, like her, would like their loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to find the joy of work. After all, it is their right.

What does work represent in Hannah’s life?

Work has brought a sense of satisfaction and pride to Hannah. She understands that Hannah’s Happy Hands is her business. She’s aware that she has the responsibility to work each day to fill orders.

Work also represents an opportunity for a sustainable future for Hannah. Having her business will offer Hannah a chance to not always rely on state and federal funding to survive and thrive.
 
Hannah with her mom holding one of her soaps     Hannah holding one of her soaps

What have been some of the challenges and learnings of this process?

Some of the challenges include:
  • Teaching her differently, given her autism-related communication challenges.
  • Coordinating Hannah’s supported employment services with all her direct care staff, which includes her Qualified Professional (QP), Care Coordinator, and others.
  • Collecting data on her progress to ensure the growth of her business.
  • Running and adapting a business during a pandemic. Teaching Hannah about sanitation and using Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) properly has been a lesson in itself.
We have learned that teaching Hannah in a systematic way works extremely well. We are also now creating a guidebook for others who may want to encourage their loved ones to grow a micro-enterprise.

Many people contribute to help Hannah grow as an entrepreneur and as a person. These include the remarkable direct care staff who assist with soap making, marketing, and web development. Hannah’s job coaches at Weddington High School have also offered to help us build her school/work connection with modules that focus on growing her work skills and confidence.

We haven’t done this alone. It’s been all about collaboration. Hannah’s services are guided by an amazing Care Coordinator at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare, Tyrhonda Davis, and a tireless QP from Developmental Disabilities Resources (DDR), Kim Mickel. Hannah also has a QP that assists exclusively with supported employment, goals, and outcomes.

How has your routine changed?

Hannah has been working on her business for about five years now. She has become used to rising to new challenges!

Some of the challenges for the entire family include:
  • Scheduling events and appointments
  • Getting Hannah through the last year of school virtually
  • Tending to the everyday challenges of having two adult children living with autism in one home
All of this takes a great deal of time and energy, but we are willing to do all of it because we believe in Hannah’s future and share in her joy of success.

What is your vision for Hannah’s Happy Hands?

We believe Hannah’s business will grow. We have received requests to share our training format and possibly replicate Hannah’s Happy Hands in other places in the country.

We’re excited to have many different partners supporting us, such as The University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), Dream On 3, DDR, A Chance to Dance, and the USA Hockey Team.

Our Essential Safety Kits have been very successful. We believe that we will be able to expand the sale of these kits to the hotel industry.

We also hope to use the Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) Program next year to help Hannah’s business become successful.

In the long run, we wish that Hannah can eventually have a larger business. This way she could employ others with different abilities and live a happier and more productive life.

Also, our dining room has become the headquarters for Hannah’s Happy Hands. We eventually want to have a “she shed” outside the house. This would be a place for Hannah to grow her business and not take over the entire house.

What advice do you have for others who want to promote employment opportunities for people with autism and other IDDs?

  • Do your research if you are planning on creating or growing a small business
  • Explore what the person enjoys or likes to experience in their life
  • Consider viable ideas
  • Work with your local Managed Care Organization (MCO) and Care Coordinator if you have the Medicaid Waiver or if you are plugged into other opportunities for supported employment
  • Use all the services in your area that offer assistance
  • Connect with advocacy organizations such as The Arc or the Autism Society
  • Learn as you go and remember, growing a business is a learning experience for everyone!

What is Hannah’s favorite product and what is her favorite part of the process?

Hannah enjoys many parts of her business. Before the pandemic, she enjoyed going to craft fairs to meet people in person. She loves the processes of pouring, mixing, and unmolding the soap. She also likes preparing the safety kits assembly-line style.

She also likes exploring websites and choosing mold designs herself. We just picked out some fun new molds for the holiday season.

Hannah is truly joyful while working. She often lets us know that by fluttering her hands in the air while saying: “I feel joyful” or “I am happy.” We feel Hannah’s joy is contagious!

Learn More about Hannah, Her Family, and Resources for Success

Hannah’s brother is also starting his business. Like Hannah, he has autism, but this doesn’t define them. You can learn more about Hannah and her family’s journey toward a productive and safe future in this video

Resources

Learn more about resources and supports for people with IDDs.

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