BOISE, Idaho — Twice a week, Robin Boudwin gets on the ACCESS bus, a paratransit transportation service, from her home in Boise. She arrives at Sweet Zola’s Candy Shop, where she packages candy boxes, trains her colleagues or operates the register.

For the past two years, Boudwin has been working at Sweet Zola’s, a nonprofit that aims to help its employees with disabilities learn vital workplace skills in a safe environment. Boudwin has quadriplegia and said the job has given her more responsibilities than her previous job at a movie theater in Las Vegas.

“It’s given me a sense of worth,” Boudwin told the Idaho Statesman at the store.

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Cyndy Radovich is the founder and executive director of Sweet Zola’s, a nonprofit named after her daughter, and since 2019 she has been helping employees like Boudwin find a place to call home.

Currently, Sweet Zola’s has 26 part-time employees, though the business has employed more than 50 workers since it began in 2019.

The employees are paid $10 an hour and tips to the store go straight to the workers. Most of the employees also receive Supplemental Security Income, Radovich told the Idaho Statesman.

The Blister Sisters, a community fitness group, recently organized a fundraiser and silent auction, which raised more than $1,200 for Sweet Zola’s and its employees. The store was also featured on Good Morning America, which increased its visibility and resulted in a $10,000 donation from entrepreneur Kim Pernell.

“It was really amazing and a little overwhelming,” Radovich said, adding that the money will in part be used for the store’s rent.

Radovich also began a candy box subscription, allowing the business to deliver its products anywhere in the U.S. and expand its customer base. Radovich said she used some of the donation funds to help start the subscription service.

Boise store faced challenges during pandemic

Zola, Radovich’s 4-year-old daughter frequently joins her mother at the shop and interacts with several of the employees. Zola has grown up around workers with disabilities and learns from them, Radovich said.

“She stands up for kids at school who are being bullied because of their disabilities,” Radovich said. “She’s such a beautiful little soul, and she’s learning.”

Sweet Zola’s was located on North Main Street. However, in 2020 during the pandemic, the space they shared with Potter’s Tea House closed. Radovich had to search for a new location and found one on Fairview. Radovich discovered the storefront on her 40th birthday and called the landlord for a tour.

“The landlord had tons of interest, but he liked me for some reason,” Radovich said. “He liked what we were doing, and he immediately said yes.”

But Radovich said she struggled financially when she opened her new shop. Through her other job, working as a behavioral therapist for teenagers, she said she was able to support the store. She said despite the challenges, she’s thankful for the second chance at keeping her business alive.

“I thought that when I opened the business, I would be making enough money to pay myself,” Radovich said. “To be perfectly honest, I hire everyone, and so I have so many employees that instead of paying myself, I pay them.”

But deciding to become a nonprofit was a tough choice. Radovich said she didn’t want to be seen as a charity and wanted to show that workers with disabilities are willing to work for their money.

“We have to work just as hard as anyone without a disability because we’re proving that disability does not mean that we can’t be the same thing as anyone else,” Radovich said.

Radovich said that someday, she hopes to eventually acquire a larger area to create a better community space for her workers.

“Most days I walk in, and my employees are clapping, and they’re smiling and they’re opening the door for me,” Radovich said. “It’s just a beautiful family.”

© 2023 The Idaho Statesman
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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