One year ago today, Kenston educator Abra Schweickert expanded her mission to help special needs individuals. After buying the 60-year-old business, Maggie’s Donuts in Hiram, she turned it into what is now called Maggie’s & MORE, employing special needs students from area schools.
Mrs. Schweickert of Hiram completed her 27th year as a Kenston Local School District educator this year, having worked as a third-grade teacher at Timmons Elementary School and an English language arts teacher at the middle school. For the past nine years, Mrs. Schweickert has worked in the middle school’s multi-age resource room as a special education teacher.
“I was finding as my students were aging out of the schools at [the age of] 22, the opportunities for individuals with learning differences are very minimal, and most of them are behind-the-scene type jobs; they don’t interact with the public,” Mrs. Schweickert said. “It’s kind of the grunt work that a lot of us don’t want to do. I have kids that have personalities and skills that really should be shared with the world, and they’re very, very capable. So I wanted to develop something that allows that to be showcased.”
On weekends, Mrs. Schweuckert had been working at her hometown Maggie’s Donuts at 6821 Twinsburg Warren Road, just around the corner from her home. She then took ownership of the shop June 4 last year after former owner Bill Poole sold the shop.
“Before that, I had been trying for a couple years to establish a post-secondary program for individuals with learning differences attached to Hiram College,” Mrs. Schweickert said. “I had this dream for a future for special needs individuals that anyone else is entitled to.”
While she said she “hit a roadblock” with the post-secondary program, taking ownership of the shop, which she renamed Maggie’s & MORE, allowed her to carry out her goal of providing opportunities to special needs individuals.
The “MORE” represents what she has added to the menu beyond keeping Maggie’s Donuts on the shelves. But, more importantly, it stands for “meaningful opportunities reaching everybody,” a reflection of her mission to give special needs individuals the same opportunities as any other individual, she said.
“Our main product is still the Maggie’s Donuts, then we added to the menu slowly in phases so the special needs employees can learn,” Mrs. Schweickert said. “Everything’s a three-step item on our menu that they’re able to create. We’ve added paninis and breakfast sandwiches and smoothies, and our latest layer is espresso coffee.”
She said with the business already established, she was able to focus more on how to provide the “meaningful opportunities” to her special needs employees. “You don’t have to work as much on developing the business, instead you can work on developing the mission behind the business,” she said.
“It’s a two-fold goal,” Mrs. Schweickert added. “One is to give differently abled individuals the same opportunity that we all would have. The second part of the mission and the goal is to help the community members understand and see how capable special needs individuals are and to appreciate them.”
Mrs. Schweickert said establishing the business and adapting the shop for special needs employees was a challenge, noting customer relations being new to her from a business standpoint and helping customers understand the setup.
“I’ve always believed in the teaching [that] you’ve got to give the gift of time, and if you can give the gift of time, almost anybody can do anything. And that’s true with special needs employees,” she said. She explained that a special needs employee may take longer to run a register or handle a transaction, but they can do it just like anyone else.
Mrs. Schweickert shared an analogy using a jar of Skittles to explain the learning process for special needs individuals.
“I teach [my students] what a learning difference is to a jar of Skittles. I put a bunch of red Skittles in there, and I’ll tell people that these are the wires in your head. Red and red have to connect for you to learn and understand something,” she explained, adding that she’d then dump a bunch of green Skittles in to break the red up a bit.
“This is a lot like most of us. We all have red, we all learn, but there’s a green Skittle in the way of that red and red connecting,” she added. “You might have to read something twice, you might have to ask a question or you might have to look something up to really understand it.
“And then I dump every color in and I tell them these are the students in [the special education classrooms],” she continued. “They still have red, and they still learn, like all of us, but they have yellow and blue and orange and purple and pink in the way of that red and red connecting.
“To get the red and red to connect, we have to learn to do things differently to get through those other colors,” she said.
As word of her mission traveled, she said, more customers began accepting the business. Some of her employees even have regulars coming in, she said.
“We have been blessed to be surrounded by the people who have jumped in, and a lot have helped and wanted to be part of it and have guided us along the way,” she said.
Mrs. Schweickert said each color also has its own meaning, such as blue for stubbornness or yellow for communication. She said Maggie’s & MORE’s logo reflects this teaching.
“The logo we’ve created has the autism puzzle piece in the middle, and then it has the colors sprinkled on the donut [around it] to represent those colored wires and the connection between them,” she said.
Now with a year under the business belt, Mrs. Schweickert wants to establish weekly social gatherings by utilizing a meeting room connected to the shop. This could include making art the special needs employees could sell or personalizing donuts.
She said she also hopes to implement a stronger dine-in atmosphere in the donut shop, which includes revamping the inside and the addition of an outdoor patio this summer.
“Hopefully people would come in and sit and stay and give these special needs employees an opportunity to interact, offer more coffee, take trays when they’re done eating and kind of add a hospitality piece to it on top of the selling piece, too,” she explained.
“It’s a donut shop just like George’s Donuts in Aurora or Dunkin Donuts,” she said. “The business wasn’t made for special needs employees, the special needs employees run the business.”