CHICAGO -- When Liza Pereira Curiel thought of the idea to start a baking service for her son and his friends, it was never about the money.
"It's about more than baking, it's about community," Curiel said.
Unique Sweets started as a way for Curiel and other moms/caregivers to create a safe space for the autistic young adults in their family to continue to socialize with others and learn skills after high school.
"Once your child graduates from high school, there are very few programs available to support them in their transition from high school to college or to get a job. And there's a need for them to be able to practice these skills in a safe environment," Curiel said.
Curiel said she started advertising on social media through Facebook to help get the word out to other caregivers and participants.
"My mom found out about it and she knew I had started baking during the pandemic, so thought I should try it," Unique Sweets participant Andrea Del-Rio Casas said. "At first I was like 'I don't know' but after I went my first time, I thought it was really fun."
The group also serves as a safe space for caregivers who are looking for to connect with others and find resources for their loved ones.
"My sister, April, moved in with me when our mother passed unexpectedly, and so we were both kind of forced into a situation where we had to kind of learn to live together and, you know, our relationships, changed quite dramatically. I became a caregiver not just her big sister, so finding Unique Sweets was truly like a blessing for me," volunteer Allison Patz said.
"When I found, Liza and the group, they instantly became like a really warm family and they just embraced us both," she said.
The group holds virtual and in-person meetings twice a week to check-in with each other and plan a pop up event once a month to sell baked goods.
The goods are available for pre-sale on their website. The profits from the bakery are then given back to participants and used to fund more events and baking materials.
"We get up early, we bake, we decorate, we package when somebody comes to get their order and they, they see that happy reaction and that kind of instills a sense of pride and of accomplishment," Curiel said. "That's what baking gives us within this business model, baking allows us to give kind of that instant gratification that at the end of the day, you do
see the fruits of your labor."
For more information on their next event or to find out how to place an order, visit www.uniquesweetsinc.com.
Baking program helps autistic young adults with job, social skills