Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:36 pm
Jaime and Tom Stepp, owners of Budget Blinds of Walworth County, are committed to giving back to the community beyond their business.
Jamie, who previously owned Prairie Tree Landscape Center and has worked for Budget Blinds over the years, wanted to fulfill what she had long felt called to: helping troubled youth and people with developmental disabilities.
“Within our landscaping company, I had a lot of young people start working within our corporation and it was really fun watching them believe in themselves and watching them grow,” Jamie said. “I always felt that if you can find a gift within somebody, you can really help them to become somebody.”
In 2017, she founded Seeds of Hope, a learning and social center in Elkhorn that helps individuals with developmental disabilities gain life skills in an encouraging environment.
Her vision for the organization was shaped by several difficult life circumstances. In 2004, her son suffered a traumatic brain injury while on a swing set. He underwent therapy in which he had to re-learn how to talk, walk and eat, and ultimately fully recovered. About two months later, her first husband also suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident, and later passed away.
Initially, she tried to partner with other existing nonprofit organizations that serve people with disabilities, but ultimately she had a different vision.
“After that time, I did employ (people with special needs), but thought that more was needed to help more individuals than the one or two I could employ,” Jamie said. “I tried explaining and talking to other organizations about implementing activities with horticulture and culinary into the everyday activities of those with special needs. It was outside the box and they couldn’t really understand. It was a good idea if someone else did it.”
So, Jamie acquired a home that was in foreclosure and converted the basement into a learning center and created a craft room, movie room and indoor swimming pool. Outside, she installed two greenhouses and converted a three-car garage into a workshop.
All of those resources are available to people with disabilities, along with their caregivers, in the community.
“We grow flowers and we actually recycle blinds,” she said. “I work to see everybody’s abilities, rather than their disabilities, and try to help them become all that they can be.”
The organization also offers off-site activities, including bowling, visits to an agility center, the library, parks, movies, nursing homes, church services and grocery stores.
About 20 people visit Seeds of Hope on a weekly basis. It also hosts about eight transitional programs, including those from Lakeland School, Palmyra-Eagle School District, Richmond Burton Community High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The program is funded in large part by Jamie and Tom, along with funding from IRIS through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, other donations, flower sales and recycled blinds.
Seeds of Hope plans to launch a co-op, in which people with disabilities can create micro-businesses and sell products at local farmers markets.
In the future, Jamie envisions eventually having a larger facility and offering job opportunities.