'Never give up. Don't let people make you sad or feel rejected. Stay motivated and follow your dreams.'
Ever since she was 15 years old, Collette Divitto has been baking up a storm in her family's kitchen.
"I always baked after school and on the weekends," explains Divitto in an email. "I loved baking for my family for holidays."
She quickly realized she wanted to make a career out of her passion for baking, and when she was 22, she started applying to jobs in Boston.
To each interview, she'd bring samples of the cookies that her family and friends had raved about. Unfortunately, none of the places that interviewed her offered her a job; for all her hard work, Divitto mostly saw a lot of doors being closed in her face.
"Many people who interviewed me for jobs said I was really nice but not a good fit for them," writes Divitto. "It was really hurtful and I felt rejected a lot."
While being turned down for jobs isn't unusual for a lot of young people, Divitto wondered if — in her case — she wasn't getting offered jobs because she has Down syndrome.
While the rejection was disheartening, it did not dissuade her from following her dreams. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
With the help of her mom and sister, Divitto started her own cookie company called Collettey's. They soon received their first order for her famous cookies (chocolate chip with cinnamon and other secret ingredients) from a grocery store in Boston called Golden Goose Market.
Divitto began making 100 cookies a week for the Golden Goose, then — thanks to coverage by CBS News — orders began pouring in from all over the country. Today, Divitto is 26 and by mid-December had posted that Collettey's is up to 10,000 orders to be filled.
"My biggest success so far is how big my company is growing, which means I can start hiring people with and without disabilities," Divitto says.
Right now, Collettey's staff consists of Divitto, her mom, and her sister as well as some amazing volunteers from Golden Goose Market who help bake and ship all the cookies. As the business grows, she'll need more staff very soon.
According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 10.7% of people with a disability who are actively looking for work were unemployed in 2015. That's twice the unemployment rate of people without a disability. In light of those figures, Divitto plans to offer as many job opportunities to people in the the disabled community as she can.
Divitto hopes her accomplishments inspire others to pursue their dreams any way they can, even if it means taking a nontraditional route.
"I never raised her looking at her as if she had limitations," Divitto's mom, Rosemary Alfredo, told ABC News. "I just said, 'We all have them. We all have things we're good at, and we all have things we’re not good at.' You can call them disabilities. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We don't focus on that."
Or, as Divitto says: "Never give up. Don't let people make you sad or feel rejected. Stay motivated and follow your dreams."