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Helping people with disabilities turn their passions into businesses

At a time when employment is uncertain, a local organization helps people with disabilities become entrepreneurs.

CARROLL COUNTY, Md. — As new restrictions on businesses settle into place, a local organization is helping people with disabilities tap into their passions to become entrepreneurs.

Take Derek Hamburg, for starters. Derek, 28, is a sports fanatic through and through. It was something he and his dad bonded over, until his father passed away from cancer when Derek was in sixth grade.

“When I was about 7 or 8 years old, me and my dad, when he was alive, we went to a lot of the Ravens games,” Derek said. “I’m also a Special Olympics athlete.”

At the age of three, Derek was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. He’s been receiving Supported Employment and Personal Supports for the past six years from Change, Inc., a division of Penn-Mar Human Services.

Penn-Mar is an organization committed to creating independence and inclusion for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Derek has dreams of becoming a sportscaster, so to sharpen his public speaking skills, Penn-Mar encouraged him to start a podcast called “Hamburg’s Huddle.”

Penn-Mar is helping people like Derek tap into their passions to start a small business of their own. In some ways, the pandemic has helped these new entrepreneurs thrive.

“They may have had other employment opportunities in the past that might have been temporarily set aside during COVID when businesses weren’t up and running a lot, but small businesses, especially ones that can be marketed online, have really taken off during this,” explained Jennifer Mettrick, Chief Strategy Officer at Penn-Mar.

Just over the state border in Carroll county, Maryland, Sarah O’Keefe’s new business has also taken off. Sarah is a quadriplegic who started her own candle-making business. 

It began as a hobby to pass the time during statewide shutdown orders in the spring. Now, Sarah and her Direct Support Professional (DSP), Kathy Poindexter, make about 10 candles a week and sell them through her Sassy Sarah Scents Facebook page.

“We would just come into the kitchen, make a candle here, make a candle there,” added Poindexter. “And the next thing you know people are saying ‘We’d like one! We’d buy one!’”

For Derek, he’s hoping listeners will give him a sporting chance once the “Hamburg Huddle” podcast launches. This fall he was recruited by Carroll County’s Francis Scott Key (FSK) High School in Union Bridge, Md., to announce the home games of the school’s boys’ varsity soccer team.

“I’m a person that also likes to challenge myself so I think if you work on it little by little, you’re going to get better at that and it’ll help you achieve those goals,” Derek said.

To learn how to help these small businesses, visit Penn-Mar Human Services’ website.  

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