How a Gluten-Free Cookie Startup Gave Wings To My Daughter's Dream

Posted by Elise Sampson on 3/15/2017 to Young Entrepreneurship
How a Gluten-Free Cookie Startup Gave Wings To My Daughter's Dream

When you meet Carolyn Sampson, the first thing she will tell you about herself is “I am a baker.” What makes this statement remarkable is that Carolyn was born with Down Syndrome.

When you meet Carolyn Sampson, the first thing she will tell you about herself is “I am a baker.”
Today, Carolyn is not only a baker, but she is the face of Reason to Bake, a gluten-free artisanal baking company located in the mountains of North Carolina.

I’m Elise Sampson, Carolyn’s mother, and we are starting this blog to tell our story in hopes that it will encourage other families with special needs young adults to look beyond limitations and go for their dreams.

A made-from-scratch cookie business

As Carolyn was turning 18, we began looking for employment opportunities for her in our county. She was able to participate in some job training at our local vocational services, and while there, she began working with a job coach.

Right from the start, Carolyn would announce that she wanted to be a baker. I must admit I did not give her announcement much attention. But her job coach did listen and began to look for opportunities that would be a good fit for Carolyn. We couldn’t seem to find the right one.

I had a dream...or two. 

It really wasn’t on my radar that the answer to our dilemma was to start our own baking business. But Carolyn had a dream in her heart, and God began to speak to me (through a series of nighttime dreams), that He was the One who had given this dream to her. I knew I needed to pay attention.

First doubts and first steps

You won’t be surprised that my ideas of fulfilling Carolyn’s dream were pretty small. I was very comfortable with baking cupcakes and muffins in our kitchen in my spare time and selling them around town. That sounded possible to me, and I was okay with that. However, God doesn’t think in terms of what we think is possible.

He soon made it clear that there were many young people just like Carolyn who needed and wanted an opportunity to make something of their lives. We made a decision to pursue God's version of her dream rather than mine. Reason to Bake was born.

Part of a bigger picture

Just like each of us, our children need the opportunity to run after dreams that are BIG! As parents, we take time to encourage, dream with them, and help them visualize and consider the possibilities. Don’t put a ceiling on what they should pursue. They will always surprise you with what they can accomplish when given an opportunity Failure is not in our mistakes but in our never trying.

“Failure is not in our mistakes but in our never trying.”

Like each of us, our children have limitations, BUT like each of us they also have talents, gifts and longings that need to come out. They deserve the chance to be defined by what they can do rather than what they cannot! They were all born to be amazing.

Stepping out of my comfort zone

Today I am definitely operating out of my comfort zone, but truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am watching my daughter grow in confidence and grace. She is learning to tackle new skills, understand the value of hard work, and the importance of excellence in all she does. I love the joy on her face when she tells people how much she loves being a baker.

A word to parents...

Don’t worry, parents, about what you don’t know. We knew nothing about starting a business. Just step out and look for those who can help you learn along the way. Many people have come forward to help us and we couldn’t have come this far without them. Special thanks to Clemson University for believing in our dream and redesigning our packaging for a larger market. We also had an amazing summer intern from Clemson, Matthew, who is designing our crowdfunding campaign due to start in September.

Carolyn measuring flour for a batch of cookies.

Where are we now? 

Currently, we have moved into a commercial kitchen two days a week. Our niece, Johannah, joined our team and has been an amazing addition to our business. Now, we are in thirteen retail locations across Western North Carolina, selling what are, in our humble opinion, the best tasting gluten free cookies on the market. We still have much to learn.

Johannah (left), and Carolyn at work in the kitchen.

Don't stop dreaming

Our hope with this blog is that we will encourage you and your child to step out from under the “false ceiling” that keeps you from dreaming beyond what you see today. Your child is capable of so much more and, frankly, so are you. Your journey will not only change your future, but will bring hope to others around you that want to believe they are capable of greater things, too. Funny how it works that way!

Stay in touch with our blog!

This is the first in a five-post series entitled "Giving Wings to Dreams: Creating Career Opportunities for Your Special Needs Child."  In this series, we will discuss the process we went through to move from wishful thinking to a vision of what could be, and then beyond to making the dream a reality. We will tell you about others who have also embarked on a similar journey and give you concrete steps for beginning your own journey. Please subscribe to our blog to be informed as this series is posted. 

Let us hear from you! We know you have much to share, too!

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