Elizabeth has worked in the field of Special Education for the last 12 years – spending half of that time in a traditional school setting and the other half within Transition. She previously taught in Chesterfield and Powhatan.
Elizabeth received a B.S. in Psychology from James Madison University and a M.A.Ed. in Special Education from The College of William and Mary. She was originally inspired to pursue a career in Special Education because her best friend throughout childhood was born Deaf.
In 2017, Elizabeth was named The Change Agent of the Year by Chamber RVA. She was also recognized on the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Style Weekly. Elizabeth was named the 2019 Distinguished Young Alumna by St. Catherine’s School and was featured on the 2020 Bold Women of Richmond List by Richmond Magazine. In addition to leading Next Move, she is a speaker, consultant, advocate, and curriculum developer.
Elizabeth enjoys kayaking, collecting records, antiquing, and walking her Pit Bull, Violet. She calls Forest Hill home and enjoys biking to Tablespoons Bakery each day.
Where did the idea for Next Move Program come from?
I co-founded the Next Move Program in 2015 to address the staggering unemployment rate for young adults with developmental disabilities in my home state of Virginia. As a special education teacher, I often wondered what would happen to my students as they aged out of school and countless necessary services at age 22. What the data shows (and what I saw firsthand) is that most graduate to just sit at home – 80%. I had the opportunity to create this model initially in 2012 in-house for a biotech company that wanted a supported employment program and feeder internship model for this population. I later spun off the program with Mary Townley, and we expanded our services and partnerships to serve even more young adults, providing guided vocational training experiences. Our model and curriculum have since been endorsed by our state department of education.
Tablespoons Baking first started in 2017 as a NMP Alumni offering and has expanded to include a brick and mortar bakery. It will open next month. The idea for the name for Tablespoons Bakery actually came to me in a dream. This was after days of brainstorming potential names for the program. It fit perfectly. Obviously, a tablespoon is a baking utensil, but embedded within the name is the word able. It is subtle, but powerful. Our organization works every day to unlock the abilities of our students and to help those abilities shine in the community.
Tablespoons Bakery fits under our larger nonprofit, Next Move Program. We also run our Community Externship Program and Alumni services under this broader nonprofit. Further, we provide consultation to businesses wanting to hire from this population or to other organizations wanting to create programs like ours; our curriculum is also available for licensing.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
One of the aspects of my job that I love most is that every day is totally different. My day could consist of leading baking instruction in a commercial kitchen for young adults with developmental disabilities or diving into recipe development. It could also include subbing in for one of our team’s special educators at our community externship sites in area businesses. Of course, I also send much of my week completing various administrative tasks to help the organization stay productive – from HR and development, to branding and social media, or even consulting and presentations on disability services, I get to be involved in it all.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We believe in data. Whether it be task analysis data that we collect on our students’ job site growth or feedback on our new menu offerings, we are always looking to collect data and use that to make informed decisions. From there, we get to then inject the fun and personality that our students model for us each day, into all that we do. We want to contemporize traditional DD services for this population, both what those services look like in action and how we share about them to the community.
What’s one trend that excites you?
We’ve leaned into many of the social media trends – we want the community to see our work and feel connected personally to the students and adults that we serve. Social media has allowed us to do that, while also contemporizing DD services.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have always been a big believer in lists, both personal and shared. It is an essential way that we delegate and accomplish so much as a small team.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s okay to take time off and to allow time for balance in your personal life. The work tasks will always be there and very few are actually an emergency.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I hate coconut and raisins have no place in cookies. Our baking team often has some intense and humorous debates about recipe development and what makes for the best cookie.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
We spend a lot of time collecting and reviewing data. Data on student growth, program outcomes, cookie recipes, educational trends, you name it. Lean into it. It can bring such a sense of affirmation or can be the gut check that you need to move forward in a different direction.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
For us, adding Tablespoons to Next Move’s many services was critical. Our Community Externship Program had always been very successful at placing students with developmental disabilities into businesses for job training, but often only that host business got to see the full impact of the experience. Tablespoons has allowed us to have a broader community presence. Now members of our community, and beyond through social media, can meet or see our students in action at the Bakery. We can share much more of their experience and invite in volunteers in a different way that we can within a corporate host site for the externship model. We are now much more community facing. Further, there are even more ways to now support our mission. A direct donation can still be made, but we also have swag, catering, a monthly subscription program, and can take our vintage camper, The Cookie Camper, out for corporate events and rentals.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When we first started, we tried to lean into more traditional funding streams through government contracts for our services – this is how our type of programming had always been done before. We have found those systems to be less progressive and inclusive, and they have been a huge lift in unnecessary paperwork for our team. We’ve moved away from that path, after recognizing it just wasn’t who we are as an organization or the best use of our time. It took a lot of challenging conversations to come to that decision and even more to make steps to push forward in other directions. The failure was in not listening to our collective gut as an organization, and instead, trying to do what had always been done.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
During the construction process for the Bakery, we often found that we didn’t have the most up to date information on where all of the different projects were. If there was a system or service that could provide that information to clients, with minimal lift on a construction team, people would be willing to pay!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently got a new fancy drill. We’ve done so many smaller renovation projects ourselves at the Bakery. It has been fantastic to get involved and put our own stamp on the space.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We love Square for our point of sales needs. It’s so easy to use. We have so many larger orders that come in, so having the ability to quickly send out a quote and structure payment schedules has been a huge timesaver. Also, the presentation of it works well for our students.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
This a memoir by one of the most fierce self-advocates in the disability community of our time, Judy Heumann. She reflects on her work for groundbreaking legislation that has paved the way for my students to be successful in the workplace and to have more equal access to their own communities. It details how far we have come from her not being able to attend a public school as a child to where we are all now. It also shows how far we must go still, especially in employment.
What is your favorite quote?
“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” -Verna Myers
- Disability Services should be inclusive, evidence-based, integrated, and fun. It’s time to contemporize the old mindset for how these services must look and be funded.
- Lean into data. It can bring such a sense of affirmation or can be the gut check that you need to move forward in a different direction.
- The failure was in not listening to our collective gut as an organization, and instead, trying to do what had always been done.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.