By: Rebecca Copans
If you wander down Stowe’s Park Street on a summer Thursday evening, you are sure to find a colorful tent filled with specialty food items made and packaged by Patrick Lewis, the entrepreneur behind Purely Patrick.
A vivacious person who sings through his days, Patrick was born with Cerebral Palsy. His parents, Mary Anne and George Lewis, helped Patrick utilize his repetitive hand motions to build a specialty food business. He sells glass Ball jars and plastic water bottles (which are easier to ship) filled to the brim with beautiful dried ingredients like birdseed, recipes for dog treats, sweets like cookies and brownies, savory recipes like soup and cornbread, as well as a number of gluten-free recipes.
Along with his parents, George and Mary Anne Lewis, Patrick is supported by his sister, Deseray, and two LCMHS Developmental Services Supported Employment Staff, Carrie Cota and Miranda Maxham. Carrie has been with Patrick for seven years, and Miranda has been with him for three. Strong relationships and job retention are incredibly important here.
“I wouldn’t trade [Carrie and Miranda] for the world. Not just anyone can do this job,” Mary Anne says. The rapport among them is obvious.
“Miranda is the numbers girl, and I handle the technical side of the business, including developing and maintaining the website,” Carrie says.
“Carrie is my techie,” Mary Anne jokes, “and Miranda is a worker bee—they both are!—but Miranda is never afraid of using her muscles. For example, she brings many jars from the Hardware store in for Patrick after his shopping trips. She carries a ton of Patrick’s groceries in at the same time. She is always moving, and very efficient. She is even insured to drive the big lift van and does so willingly and safely.”
Developing the business-side of Purely Patrick has been a learning process. Working with his strengths, over time they developed a concept for creating products that capitalize on Patrick’s repetitive hand movements and that avoid hand-over-hand motions that are difficult for a person who is blind. His Supported Employment staff helps Patrick to ensure that measurements are accurate. But “if there is anything in one of those jars, it’s because he put it there,” Carrie says.
Mary Anne agrees. “It’s not about us doing it, it’s purely Patrick!”
The team tracks Purely Patrick sales—from farmers markets and craft shows to internet sales—and their hottest market is sales from the family-owned Brass Lantern Inn in Stowe. The relationship is mutual. The innkeepers sell a number of Vermont products, from tea to maple syrup, “but the thing we sell the most of out there is Patrick’s products,” says Mary Anne.
When buying the specialty food products, many people don’t realize that Patrick is the innkeepers’ son. It creates a positive awareness of the abilities of an individual with a disability. Even though sales aren’t always robust at some community events, there is value in Patrick’s presence there. “He has some very loyal repeat customers over the years that come to Art on Park year after year,” Carrie says.
Mary Anne agrees. “I see it as a bigger picture; it is exponential networking and I feel that it’s wholesome disability awareness. I can’t tell you how many moms and dads have come up to us and said, ‘I had no idea that a Patrick could be employed.’ It’s inspiring for families of people living with a disability to see the incredible potential in every individual.”
Rebecca Copans has worked extensively in government affairs, public relations and communications. As a society, our greatest potential lies with our children. With this basic tenant firmly in mind, Rebecca worked most recently with the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children and now with Lamoille County Mental Health to secure a stronger foundation for all Vermont families.
A graduate of the University of Vermont and Dartmouth College, Rebecca holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in globalization. Her thesis concentration was the history and societal use of language and its effect on early cognitive development. She lives in Montpelier with her husband and three children.