Brian and Kim Engstrom are the fourth generation to work the family farm near Leeds, ND. Their son, Cullen, who has intellectual and behavioral disabilities, will not be able to carry on the heritage of the family farm so they decided to create a different legacy for him.
In addition to farming, Brian and Kim own and operate processing plants that handle dry edible beans and raw popcorn. As a means to diversify their business, in 2015 they began to make pre-popped flavored popcorn called Colorado Jack’s using a unique mushroom-type popcorn kernel. They have created five flavors: white cheddar, caramel, sea salt and butter, white cheddar and jalapeno, and Colorado mix which is a blend of caramel and white cheddar jalapeno. The popcorn is sold online and in boutiques; they are currently working on increasing their distribution in grocery and convenience stores as well.
When Cullen turned 21 years old, he moved to the Open Door Center in Valley City, ND. Open Door Center (ODC) is a private, not-for-profit organization that has been serving people with cognitive and physical disabilities since 1959. Persons with disabilities, like all people, are happiest when they have meaningful work to do which is why ODC has created a shelter work environment for its residents.
When Brian and Kim learned about ODC’s amazing work programs, a new business idea popped into their plans. They purchased all the popping, seasoning, blending, packaging and labeling equipment needed to set up a small wholesale distribution center for their flavored popcorns and created the Colorado Jack Giveback program.
In addition to creating jobs for the residents of Open Door Center, the Colorado Jack Giveback program also offers a generous 50% return to fundraising groups. The remaining 50% of sales pays wages to the residents and their staff supervisors, covers operating expenses and will hopefully support an expansion so even more jobs are created.
Getting to Know Cullen:
Cullen began having epileptic seizures at one month old. He endured frequent daily seizures until he was five years old at which time he was able to undergo a surgery to remove the section of his brain that caused the seizures. At eight years old, he was diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorder and autism. He then moved in to Anne Carlsen Center in Jamestown, ND, a non-profit organization that provides housing, creative therapy and advanced assistive technology to children with developmental disabilities or delays.
Cullen’s favorite subject in school was history, so much so that his teacher created Cullen’s Corner so he could research topics and post his findings for the other students and staff to see. He loves classic black and white movies, classical music (especially Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata), and the Three Stooges. He loves to be silly, has a mischievous side and never forgets a promise.
Before the distribution center was even operational, Cullen had already helped with packaging, labeling and sweeping as it was being set up. His caretaker says he’s very good at vocational jobs and works really hard once he’s mastered a skill. No matter where he works, Cullen will be a great long-term employee because he proclaims, “I will never retire.” Plus, Cullen’s goal is to live to 123 years old so he can break the Guinness World Record. That’s a lot of working hours this young man plans to contribute.
When asked what his favorite flavor of popcorn is, his face lights up and he immediately says, “caramel!” He also likes the white cheddar jalapeno, but “caramel is my very favorite,” he reports.
More About Open Door Center:
Open Door Center is a private, not-for-profit organization providing a variety of long-term housing options, educational services, community integration, and assistance to people with cognitive and physical disabilities. Open Door Center strives to help each individual develop skills that will allow him/her to be as independent as possible.
In addition to partnering with several local businesses for employment opportunities for their residents, they also own and operate their own companies which provides employment options and self-sustaining revenue for the center.
ODC manages five group homes, the HI Soaring Eagle Ranch for people with traumatic brain injuries, and a variety of services for those living in their own apartments. Their residential options include an intermediate care facility, minimally supervised living, and individual supportive living arrangements. They provide development day activities, developmental work training and supported employment options.