Sugar Plum, Inc. was founded and incorporated in 1985 in Virginia Beach, VA as a not-for-profit organization following a demonstration grant award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Developmental Disabilities. To receive this grant award (200 awarded out of 2200 applications) a market and investment feasibility study was undertaken to satisfy the retail/commercial need for a bakery business in this particular location and community. Many business ideas were considered, but the bakery idea not only met the criteria for a market need, it also provided various skill levels and employment opportunities in a business which would produce everything it sold every single day. Following notification by the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington that Sugar Plum was in line for one of the grants, hands-on managerial training began at the Ukrops Bakery Production Center in Richmond. The initial Board of Directors as well as an Advisory Board of various agencies working in education and services for persons with disabilities began laying the framework for Sugar Plum, Inc.
This demonstration project was developed to serve as what is considered in layman’s terms an entrepreneurial model of supported employment for persons with physical and mental disabilities. In other words, the necessary environment and a structural linkage of tasks would be established in various programs in a prototype business. Persons with disabilities, with appropriate and long-term assistance and follow-along services, could “grow” in their jobs and achieve long-term employment stability.
Sugar Plum, Inc. would demonstrate that persons with disabilities can be accepted and compensated like their non-disabled peers in a business which employs both. Additional financial support was provided by many private foundations, businesses and organizations such as State of Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS), Knights of Columbus for the Mentally Retarded (KOVAR), Norfolk Foundation, Marietta-Morgan Foundation, Parsons Foundation, City of Virginia Beach, banks and others. The private community also provided additional, necessary financial support as well as many in kind services. The U.S. Navy Submarine Group scraped, caulked and painted the exterior of the building, and garden clubs landscaped the planting beds. Sugar Plum became a real community project.
In October 1987, Sugar Plum, Inc. opened its doors for business. This business operates year round, providing the community and visitors with a “mouth-watering” array of bakery products.
Sugar Plum, Inc. is governed by a thirteen member Board of Directors of community leaders. These dedicated persons set policy and budget, fund-raise and provide necessary supports to ensure the continuance and growth of the project. The Sugar Plum staff includes several volunteers who provide help in day-to-day operations and are the “lifeline” between the community and those persons with disabilities who are integrating themselves in the workplace and everyday life. In-service training is continuous for a support staff that usually has had no training in working with persons with disabilities. When Sugar Plum began, there were four persons with disabilities working in only one program. Today there are four rehabilitative programs successfully operating at Sugar Plum. Sixteen to nineteen persons with disabilities are working in the bakery on any given day. This is in addition to those persons who have been successfully placed in jobs outside the bakery.
Sugar Plum, Inc. networks continuously with various agencies and organizations providing services for persons with disabilities, A regular inter-agency group meets monthly to evaluate individuals and ascertain that they are receiving the services they need. A Provider’s Forum of agencies from around the State of Virginia also meets regularly, and Sugar Plum is a member of the national and state Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE). In 1990 Sugar Plum, Inc. became vendored by the State of Virginia as a provider of rehabilitative services, as a bakery, Sugar Plum’s revenues have increased steadily each year. Primarily a retail business, Sugar Plum does have some commercial accounts.
Sugar Plum works hard to keep currently abreast of trends in the country and continuously introduces new products. Quality Control is the single hardest “ingredient” to maintain in the bakery business. Walking a fine line between Sugar Plum as a business and Sugar Plum as a rehabilitative facility has always been a delicate balancing feat. However difficult, Sugar Plum, Inc. continues to work well, and persons with disabilities have been successfully employed in our community. These special people are living a quality life.