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Rejected from job after job, this baker with Down syndrome opened her own shop instead.

'Never give up. Don't let people make you sad or feel rejected. Stay motivated and follow your dreams.'

Rejected from job after job, this baker with Down syndrome opened her own shop instead.

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."

Photo via Collettey's Cookies/Facebook, used with permission.


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.

Photo via Collettey's Cookies/Facebook, used with permission.

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.

Photo via Collettey's Cookies/Facebook, used with permission.

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.

Photo via Collettey's Cookies/Facebook, used with permission.

"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."

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Adelin Preda on Unsplash

A multinational study found that bystanders intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The recent news report of a woman on a Philadelphia train being raped while onlookers did nothing to stop it was shocking and horrible, without question. It also got people discussing the infamous "bystander effect," which has led people to believe—somewhat erroneously, as it turns out—that people aren't likely to intervene when they see someone being attacked in public. Stories like this uninterrupted train assault combined with a belief that bystanders rarely step in can easily lead people to feel like everything and everyone is horrible.

But according to the most recent research on the subject, the Philadelphia incident appears to be the exception, not the rule. A 2019 multinational study found that at least one bystander (but usually more) will actually intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The idea that people in groups aren't likely to intervene stems largely from research on the 1964 story of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death outside her apartment in New York, while dozens of onlookers in surrounding apartment buildings allegedly did nothing. However, further research has called the number of witnesses into question, and it appears that several did, in fact, call the police. Someone reportedly shouted out their window and scared the attacker away for a few minutes, and someone did rush to Genovese's aid after the second attack.

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