Operating five separate businesses under one roof is a unique endeavor.
Even more noteworthy is that all five subsets of Life Experiences are staffed by adults with special needs. The Cary-based nonprofit was founded in 1978 by a group of parents when they realized that once their children graduated the school system, further opportunities would be severely limited.
“They had spent all this time in school learning skills, and they wanted to be able to utilize those skills,” said Executive Director Mary Madenspacher.
“The majority of people wouldn’t be able to have jobs in the community, but with our help and support, they can do work and get paid for it,” she said.
All 48 employees have developmental or intellectual difficulties, including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and others. Many have multiple diagnoses. The jobs bring them pride, purpose and so much more.
“They love to hang out and do jigsaw puzzles. We are a vocational center first, but it is Life Experiences, and not just work experiences. We are trying to give them a well-rounded experience,” Madenspacher said. “This is a lot of their social life, a lot of their structure.”
Anita Jordan, an employee for seven years, agrees: “It is very important to me. It keeps me out of trouble. I get paid every two weeks. I work hard and I earn that money,” she said.
Perhaps the best-known business, the bakery makes brownies for several area restaurants. It also serves up a reasonably priced menu of platters ranging from brownies and cookies to sandwiches and veggie trays. “Anyone can order at any time,” Madenspacher said, but orders do require advance notice of about a day.
The laundry business boasts high-profile clients from Prestonwood Country Club to SAS, processing up to 3,000 pieces per day. A sub-contracting group does anything from packaging dog biscuits for The Pet Pantry to rolling silverware for airlines. And a shredding department takes care of document disposal for businesses and individuals.
The most recent business addition, founded by Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe and gifted to Life Experiences in 2012, is a distributor of buckwheat hulls, used to make pillows, meditation cushions and other products.
Life Experiences garners most of its funds from fees for services rendered. However, several annual fundraising events give the community a chance to interact.
On Feb. 12, Life Experiences will partner with the Cary MacGregor Rotary Club for the third year to host the Fat Tuesday Mardi Gras Fundraiser, featuring raffles and a live auction. In April, the ninth annual Ride for Jason and Friends to benefit Life Experiences will take local bikers for an adventure. After five stops — a playing card dealt to each rider at each one — the biker with the best poker hand wins a prize. The Harry Montgomery Golf Tournament and Auction rounds out the major fundraisers in August.
Occasionally, businesses “adopt” Life Experiences for a day, hosting a party to benefit the group, a very welcomed gesture. “We love to party!” Madenspacher said.
For more information on Life Experiences — including its bakery menu — see lifeexperiences.org.