We had the good fortune of connecting with Bryn Baldassari and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bryn, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
My thought process behind starting my own business was all about passion. I didn’t start it because I wanted to be my own boss, although now that I am 7.5 years into it I do love it. I originally started it because I had SO MANY ideas on how I wanted to creatively support the community of adults with developmental disabilities, and the main area I wanted to serve didn’t have any agencies to support them. I grew up in Littleton, CO and I made friends with many of the individuals with disabilities. As I graduated college and set out to start my life, I was hit in the face with the reality that many of my peers whom I graduated with, my friends with DD, did not have the same opportunities that I had at the same stage in life. I could have gone to grad school, moved anywhere I wanted to live independently, etc. etc. My peers were still living at home with their parents, maybe involved in a day program a couple days/week, and calling me multiple times/day just wanting to have some peer interaction. My passion to serve this community was what drove me to start Stepping Stone. They should have the same opportunities that I have. They should be able to find a fulfilling job, have a community of friends where they can see them whenever they want, and continue to grow in independence so they can create their own life based on what they want to do. I started Stepping Stone so I could create a space for our participants to do just this. Whatever goals they have, we want to be able to provide those opportunities for them to become the best versions of themselves.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I think one thing that sets me apart from others is how open I am to people and ideas. While I have do have strong ideas and things I want to do, I have realized that at the end of the day, I cannot do everything myself, so I need to find a strong team to have around me and empower them to do their jobs well. And sometimes that means believing in an idea they have that I might not have come up with myself. I truly believe so much of Stepping Stone’s successes are because we have had so many amazing people come through our organization and left their creative and amazing mark on so many areas of the company! I think I am most proud of the Co-op that we have created. We started a Co-op (HUGE props again to Barb Ziegler on this guidance) run by our individuals with disabilities. They make products (lip balms, lotions, candles, dog biscuits, baked goods, etc.) and run services (coffee shop and food bank). Whatever money they make from these profits, they get as a direct dividend. It teaches them job skills and empowers them into running their own business! It’s amazing to see the Co-op members in action. I am also incredibly proud of the In-Home services and Job Coaching services we provide. Chelsea Krupa, our In-Home and Employment Director, is one of those people that is an incredible team member and friend. She has built some amazing services that support individuals in their homes, residentially, and occupationally. I am overall proud of all the services we offer because we have such a great team running them. I believe I got where I am today professionally because I worked hard, I never gave up, and I told myself every day I could do it! I also have a strong faith and feel so blessed with the opportunities that God has given me. I have had so many great people support me through each season of my professional career, and learned so much from each person. I think it’s so important to be open to new things and changes, and always have a can do attitude. If a door closes, that means we weren’t supposed to go through that door and to find another one that will open. And most times I realized that the alternative route was way better than the original one. This of course has not come without its challenges. I have had MANY challenges to overcome over the years. One challenge was learning the regulations we had to follow while getting started. There was so much to learn and it was so overwhelming having to provide services, implement the regulations, at the same time as figuring out how to run a business. Since I didn’t go to business school, I struggled to grasp how to do all the aspects of running a business. I think the other huge challenge for me personally was managing people. I am a huge people pleaser so when it comes to formally managing people, you cannot please everyone. I struggled, and still struggle, with this aspect as you can never make every staff member happy. You have to just know that as long as you are doing everything you can to try and support and care for your staff, if someone is upset after that, you just create an open environment to talk to staff and understand where they are coming from. I think that ties into one of my biggest lessons learned along the way. To have confidence in myself and hold self-care as a priority in my life. This has made me a better leader for my staff and Stepping Stone. I have learned that the more I can be confident in myself, the better I can lead everyone and empower them to do their own jobs. Self-care is so important and without this as a balance in my life, I am not the best version of myself. I think the final thing I want the world to know about me and my story is how important it is to love others and have grace for people. I couldn’t have done this without the love and support from the community around me. They gave me constant grace as I learned new things, made mistakes, and grew from it. I strive to do that for others and create a space for people to have passion, learn, make mistakes and grow from them. And to work hard. “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If a friend visiting came for a week-long trip, I would definitely take them up to Grand Lake for a couple days. My husband’s family has a cabin in GL so it’s easy for us to go for a few days. The mountains in general would be a great place to go for even a day or a couple days. Breckenridge is another fun place to just go and walk around. Go get come crepes in Breckenridge! I would take them on a hike somewhere in the mountains. If it was in Grand Lake, Adam’s Falls or Cascade Falls. If it was closer to Denver, I would take them to Saint Mary’s Glacier and then go to Beau Jo’s Pizza on the way down. If we were in Denver, I might have us rent bikes in Aspen Grove and bike the Platte River Trail all the way to down to Denver. That’s a fun bike ride and then you can relax by the river near the REI store. Or if it was warm we could get tubes and tube down the river! I would also take them to Steuben’s or Tag Burger in Denver for some good food! For some good Italian one night we would take them to Cafe Jordano’s in Lakewood. We might go to NoNo’s Cafe in Littleton for some great New Orleans food! We definitely would stop by Dirt Coffee in Downtown Littleton also for a fun afternoon to sip a Latte and walk around Downtown Littleton in the unique shops. And of course the Great Northern in DTC for some yummy wood fired burgers! We also like to do a trip to Colorado Springs and do the walk through Glen Erie and go to the Skirted Heifer after. If we were really feeling some exercise do the incline early in the morning in Colorado Springs. If we went up North to Fort Collins I would recommend going to Lucky Jo’s in Old town! A classic I used to go to in college at CSU. And of course I can’t forget Boulder. Boulder is a fun place to walk around! If you are feeling hippie, go to Tonic and get some Jun. Or go to Half Fast and get a strong island iced tea! Lots of fun places in CO! Those are some of our favorites! Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I couldn’t agree more!! I have to give two shout outs as these two women have empowered me more than anyone else and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. 1. Barb Ziegler. Barb is a mom of one of my best friends who also has disabilities. Barb is also the sole reason why I am able to sit here today as the Executive Director of Stepping Stone. She mentored me along the way into starting Stepping Stone. Our favorite quote between us two is “Put a baby boomer with a millennial and nothing is impossible.” Barb poured her wisdom and life experience into me and Stepping Stone to help get us off the ground and established. She didn’t ask for anything in return and enjoyed being a part of the ride. She is still a part of Stepping Stone, however, has transitioned her amazing talents towards starting a sister nonprofit of Stepping Stone called Tailhead Community. Trailhead is building an apartment complex for people with and without disabilities living in a housing community. She’s truly an amazing woman and has given me more than I could have ever imagined. She believed in me and I am forever grateful for her! 2. My mom, Lynette Galisewski. My mom has been a part of Stepping Stone since the beginning and poured her time and talents into helping get Stepping Stone started. She worked with Barb and myself to find a building, volunteered 1000’s of hours to help participants within the program, and is ALWAYS available to help with whatever is needed. She has also always believed in me and been such an amazing support. I also give her so much credit because growing up, she and my dad really taught me about loving others and giving to others. I am so thankful for my mom and couldn’t have done all of this without her!
Other: I am not very good at social media so we have a website and I put the Co-op’s facebook page so people can check out the participants and their work!