April 11, 2023 by Cathy Stack
Collette was born in 1990 with Down syndrome, a genetic condition in which a person carries an extra chromosome that leads to differences in development. Her mother, Rosemary, vowed to never treat her daughter differently or hinder her dreams.
After graduating from Clemson University’s LIFE program, at age 26, Collette confidently went out into the job market. She had finished the three-year program a year early and posted good grades. Despite her excellent academic record, several potential employers rejected her, saying she wasn’t “a good fit.” Collette decided to take matters into her own hands by focusing on her strengths and her passion for baking.
With no business experience, but inspired by her entrepreneurial family, she took the bold move of starting her own cookie business. Four years later, Collettey’s Cookies now employs 15 people and has surpassed $1 million in revenue.
“It was sad, and it was hard," Collette recalled of her disappointing job search. "To me, it felt like they didn't like me at all because of who I am. No one would hire me, so I decided to open my own business.”
Today, Collette’s booming business ships thousands of cookies and gourmet dog treats nationwide and globally. She perfected her signature cookie, the Chocolate Chip Cinnamon (aka “The Amazing Cookie”), and it has garnered a loyal fan base. Other varieties include Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Butter and a Healthy Breakfast Cookie. Her business has 44,000 Instagram followers, and Collette speaks to groups about her life story and lessons learned.
Rosemary always supported her daughter’s ambitious pursuits.
“I never felt the need to tell her she's different. To me, it was just a label, and we all have strengths and weaknesses,” explained Rosemary.
Despite being treated no differently at home, Rosemary could not control how others would regard Collette in the outside world. In high school, Collette endured years of bullying and didn’t have many friends. She found refuge in her favorite hobby, baking.
“I've never seen anyone work so hard to have what everyone else has and be accepted,” said Rosemary. “I just thought to myself, people are seeing her as a labeled individual with disabilities and they're not giving her a chance.”.
Collette used rejection as fuel to build her baking business. Determined to make a success of her new business, she went to a local grocery store and requested that they sell her cookies.
After tasting her “Amazing Cookie” (the Chocolate Chip Cinnamon), they immediately agreed.
“Anybody who tasted this cookie was like, 'You need to sell this. This is amazing,” said Collette.
Rosemary helped guide Collette in the logistics of opening her first business. With Collette’s drive combined with the support of family, friends and the community, the business is thriving. Collette oversees the entire business operation which includes hiring, managing, baking, packing and shipping. She employs 15 people, including her mother and two interns.
“My favorite part of my company is creating more jobs for people with all types of disabilities,” Collette said.
Collette said it was important that she give others the chance that employers didn’t give her.
“You have to really focus on your abilities and not the disadvantages,” advised Collette. “Do not let people bring you down and do not give up on your careers and dreams, because when one door closes, another door opens.”
“She's got this drive and determination that you cannot change her mind, and she's not done yet. She's gonna do a lot more,” said Rosemary, clearly proud of her daughter’s tenacity.
The Foundation for a Better Life / PassIton think Collette Divitto is a hero. She did not allow life challenges, nor rejection, to defeat her. Instead, she focused on her strengths and passions. Her action is a great example of drive. Please help us celebrate Collette by sharing her inspiring story.
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