RochesterRockstars.com Interview With Donna Deedee, CEO of Holy Childhood and Special Touch Bakery

Sitima Fowler:

Hi, this is Sitima Fowler, partner at Capstone IT, an iconic IT company. We're at RochesterRockstars.com. This is where we interview success-minded leaders and get into their heads of how they think so that we can inspire other entrepreneurs. And today you're going to get a ton of inspiration because we're here with Donna Deedee. And Donna is not only the CEO and president of Holy Childhood and now the Special Touch Bakery, which is right behind us. We're in production mode right here, so our voices might be a little echo-y because we have to put on hair nets to get in there, and I think we wanted to kind of-

Donna Deedee:

And we’re not going to do that today.

Sitima Fowler:

Yeah, we’re not going to do that today. But we’re going to give you the full gist of everything. But I think the key thing with Donna is that not only is she in this position today where she has the Holy Childhood where they take care of people with disabilities but then give them employment here at the Special Touch Bakery, which makes amazing pies, but she has had a career in being the president at Rochester Rotary, right?

Donna Deedee:

Right.

Sitima Fowler:

And then the Bishop Kearney High School.

Donna Deedee:

Correct.

Sitima Fowler:

And then Fox News anchor.

Donna Deedee:

Right. Mm-hm.

Sitima Fowler:

And then another channel. Channel 10?

Donna Deedee:

Channel 10, WHEC.

Sitima Fowler:

So you’ve had such a diverse career and I can’t wait to hear how you do that, because so many people feel like, they tell me, “Oh I am 50 years old and I’m stuck in my career even though I don’t like it. I don’t know what else to do.” And I think that is such a miserable place to be. So you guys, wait until you hear this. So with that, welcome-

Donna Deedee:

Thank you.

Sitima Fowler:

Welcome to Rochester Rockstars. So let’s dive right in. So you’ve had such an illustrious career with different positions. Can you talk us through, like when you want to make a change, when do you know that it’s time to make a change? And what kind of motivation do you get to say, “I’m going to do this”?

Donna Deedee:

So it was a combination of things. And my lifelong dream early in my life was to work in the news business. I wanted to be a journalist. And I did that for 20 years, and there came a point … There’s usually a life event or a situation in life that has propelled me to make a change. And for me, to evolve out of television news, it was the fact that I had a five-year-old and a seven-year-old at home. And with two children, working nights, weekends, and holidays wasn’t a good fit anymore. And while I loved the career, I love the people I worked with, I realized that if I were to be present for my family, that I probably needed to make a change and find a way to identify transferable skills that would put me in a different position, that allowed to do some things that I still like to do, that I had a passion for, but still be present for my family as well. So that meant not working until 11:00 or 12:00 at night anymore

Donna Deedee:

So I made the change, and I went to United Way of Greater Rochester and became the VP for marketing communications, which kept my hand in that communications realm, which was something I really had a passion for all along. And what that exposed me to was our community’s incredible human service sector. And so, suddenly I married these two things that I have an interest in, and that started to be the catalyst for moving me in different directions. While I was there, I realized I kind of like this and leadership thing. I enjoy driving initiatives. I enjoy meeting people. And I was learning how I might do that. And so I left and became the president of Bishop Kearney, which I’m an alum of. And so I applied all of those assembly of transferable skills to a new realm, a place that I had a real affinity for.

Donna Deedee:

And then it was time to go. Sometimes as a leader, you have to realize when it’s time for you to leave and give the reins to someone else who can take the organization to places that you might not be able to anymore. And that’s what I did. I came to Holy Childhood, where I had a distinct role to lead this organization in a different way. So I feel really fortunate that I’ve been able to identify transferrable skills, identify opportunities where I can apply them, and having a scotch of bravery to be able to make those changes, because it’s not easy. Maybe I was just naive. I didn’t have to be brave, I was just naive.

Sitima Fowler:

Well, I think the two things I heard you say is the transferable skills and the bravery. So I think those are the two key things. Because when I worked at Xerox and General Motors, a corporate Fortune 500 company, I used to think, “What do I know about running a business?” But now at Capstone IT, so many of the things that I learned there, I apply. In a lot of ways, there’s so many things that, those skills that you pick up from job to job. And then you do have to have that bravery. You’ve got to take a little bit of a risk, right? Because I think we all love being in our little comfort zone.

Donna Deedee:

We do.

Sitima Fowler:

But when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone is when we really innovate and have breakthroughs. So good for you.

Donna Deedee:

Right. I was talking to somebody actually in this morning about this, that many times you start your career thinking, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life because I know this is what I like.” And then you realize, “Well, wait a minute, there are other things I can do or other things I’m interested in.”

Donna Deedee:

And for instance, I didn’t wake up one day saying, “I want to bake a pie.” Because I know nothing about baking pies. But look where we’ve evolved to, because we obviously are doing something that has a mission at its core. I do want to do that, because making pie is the vehicle for forwarding the mission for all of these people we’re serving and giving them opportunity. That’s something, yes, I do want me to do that.

Sitima Fowler:

Yeah. So people looking in literally through window here today-

Donna Deedee:

Busy day here today.

Sitima Fowler:

Yes, a busy day. And they may say, “Okay, Donna, you were kind of … you just landed on this. Pie making is easy. All this fell into your lap.” But we all know that things do not just fall into your lap. Can you talk about adversities, maybe an example of one? Or just, how do you deal with adversities? Because I think a lot of people think, “All the problems I get, everybody else doesn’t get the same problems.”

Donna Deedee:

Well, I think diversity drives opportunity. And I have always looked at it that way, that if you have a problem and you can see your way around it, then you’ve solved the problem and you’ve gotten by adversity. When you think about the origins of this, so this started, Special Touch Bakery was actually, 30-plus years ago, it was just a vocational training opportunity over at Holy Childhood. A vocational instructor said, “Well, I need a task that I can break into steps for people to learn vocational skills. So, oh, pie baking is good for that.” And that’s how it started. And then we realized that was a great programmatic asset.

Donna Deedee:

But suddenly, the adversity came when our regulators said, “You can’t keep operating this way. It’s too segregated and sheltered workshops in these environments. So you’re going to have to close them all by 2020.” We said, “Well, we’re not going to close anything. What we’re going to do is we’re going to expand it. We’re going to meet the spirit, in fact, exceed the spirit of what you’re pushing us toward so that we can create a model for other employers to realize how we should celebrate everybody’s abilities, not focus on disabilities.” And we did it in a really big way. So there was adversity that drove that, and then tenacity that had to get through the adversity that’s presented by creating a start-up business. Because this entity is very different from the vocational instruction that we did back at Holy Childhood.

Sitima Fowler:

So you evolved.

Donna Deedee:

Evolved and then some. You think about it, we know we’re mission-based. We will always be mission-based. But we also have to have a superb product in an incredible environment that’s safe, efficient, and accredited with all the safety features that it is. We’ve reached the height of the food safety here, for instance. We have to do that to compete now in the business sector in which we operate.

Sitima Fowler:

Wow.

Donna Deedee:

And so our competitors in the bakery business don’t care about our mission. They care that we can do it better, faster, etc. They think they can, but we can also do it better and faster. And we have the mission that’s married to it, the purpose. So this is a social enterprise that we’ve created, born out of adversity

Sitima Fowler:

Wow. So adversities are creating opportunities. That, okay, hopefully, the day … If you are having a bad day, remember what Donna just said. That is so key and uplifting. So tell me about, you went from being a news anchor, United Way. How did you learn anything about a bakery? And also, I think maybe this is not the right thing to say, it’s not like you have a super skilled workforce. I mean, you are actually employing people we would consider, I don’t if that’s the right term, with disabilities to do it. Most people would look at that as super challenging, but you are thriving.

Donna Deedee:

We are thriving. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because we recognize and celebrate everybody’s abilities, because everyone has innate abilities. I don’t care what your starting point is. We happen to employ … Part of our workforce is with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and the other part of the workforce has no disability. They’re more typical, right? But I defy you to look out on this floor and tell me who has a disability and who doesn’t, because they’re working side by side and they’re all doing the same jobs. It’s because we’ve trained them, and we’ve met every person where they are.

Donna Deedee:

And so if they came in … Many of the non-disabled bakers who are here also had no banking experience whatsoever, but they came in and we leveled the playing field and trained everyone on the skills necessary to operate successfully here. Then we created an environment that is welcoming of all capability and understands that, you know, I may not be as good at crimping the crust as Felicia is, but Felicia not only does that, but she can load the tins in the pie-making machine too. So everybody has something they can bring to the party. And I guess the difference here is that we really stress that we have to meet people where they’re at and we have to recognize their particular individual talents and put them to good use.

Sitima Fowler:

And that’s so applicable even in the for-profit business world because, same thing, as long as you have a business with employees and you understand what you were saying, meet that person with their true gift that they bring to this world and capitalize on it, they’ll be fine.

Donna Deedee:

Exactly. And actually, your business will thrive because you’ll have an engaged workforce. This is a very happy workforce out here. They like to be busy, and they like to be productive, and they to accomplish things. Who doesn’t want to do that, right?

Sitima Fowler:

Yeah, exactly.

Donna Deedee:

And so when you have success that way, it really is not only good for the individual, but it's good for your business. And I like to think that it's good for our community because it's setting an example for how that should be.

Sitima Fowler:

And so are you. Thank you. So thank you for joining us on Rochester Rockstars. Do you have any last words of advice for other entrepreneurs who are watching?

Donna Deedee:

Don't fear.

Sitima Fowler:

Don’t fear. Because-

Donna Deedee:

Bust through it.

Sitima Fowler:

… when you’re a child, you don’t have the fear, and you learn and do so much, right?

Donna Deedee:

Mm-hm.

Sitima Fowler:

And somehow over the years, you put all these fears in place.

Donna Deedee:

Mm-hm. You learned how to ride your bike when you were little because you had no fear, and your center of gravity was a little lower than it is as an adult.

Sitima Fowler:

Right, right.

Donna Deedee:

But if you can at least bust through the fair, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Sitima Fowler:

Love it. I'm going to bust through my fears.

Donna Deedee:

Yes.

Sitima Fowler:

You’re such an inspiration.

Donna Deedee:

As are you.

Sitima Fowler:

Thank you so much.

Donna Deedee:

Thank you.

Sitima Fowler:

Thank you. And thank you guys for watching. If you want to see other videos, go to www.RochesterRockstars.com. And if you want to be interviewed yourself, feel free to fill out the form. And hope to meet you soon.
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