WEST HAZLETON – After her daughter Emma was born with multiple disabilities 10 years ago, Lynn Elko baked up dozens of homemade cookies for the many therapists and others who helped as a way to say thank you.
She continued that tradition for several years but started to wonder if there was something else she could make instead.
I was staying up way too late making cookies, she said.
One day Elko spotted a cover of a Martha Stewart magazine in the grocery store about soap-making. They were just glycerin soaps – the melt and pour kind, she said. I thought, ‘This is not how our forefathers did this.'
After doing research, Elko came up with about five different formulas she wanted to use to make all-natural, hand-cut soaps for gifts. Everyone loved the gifts so much they started placing orders. Her kitchen soon became a soap factory as she whipped up batches of the fragrant bars as well as lotions and scrubs to fill orders and to also sell at craft shows.
As a member of the board of directors for Avenues, formerly United Cerebral Palsy, Lynn Elko works to help others with disabilities. Avenues, which serves Schuylkill County and the surrounding areas, is an organization that provides innovative services to empower people with disabilities to attain success and a high quality of life.
Although the adults in the Avenues program have cognitive and physical disabilities, they are eager to work and keep busy. They so want something to do in life, Elko said. I didn't know what I could do to help. It was then she realized she could use help packaging the products for her growing business. In 2008, Emma's Friends was founded.
Working as a group fosters a social environment and a feeling of belonging, Elko said of the group of about 40 disabled adults who help put together the products. They're called ‘friends,' not ‘employees,' she pointed out, adding there is a job for everyone, depending on their abilities. Some help with packaging by gluing the band onto the soaps, looping ribbons and tying knots, while others mix the bath salts and sugar scrubs. Elko said she makes the soaps and lotions herself.
After learning about Emma's Friends and trying out some of the products at a recent Penn State Craft Show, Frank Lombardo, owner of Cook's Pharmacy in Shavertown, was hooked and decided to carry the line in his store.
I thought it was an amazing story, he said. I was impressed with the products and started using them at home for my kids. His store carries an assortment of items from the line including lotions, lip balms, scrubs and soaps.
Emma's Friends is having an Open House on Dec. 14 from 5-8 p.m. and the Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its shop located at 32 West Broad Street, West Hazleton. For more information visit: http://www.emmasfriends.com/