The Importance of Employment and Activity for People with Developmental Disabilities

by Donna Kirk on January 8, 2015

cristinaiusso.jpgIn the Greater Toronto section of the Star, January 7, 2015, I read about Cristina Iusso. She is the only five year old I know who has her own thriving business. It’s called Cristina’s Tortina Shop, and she sells cupcakes. Tortina is Italian for little cake. Her mother, Mary Iusso, keeps the business running smoothly until Cristina has finished high school.

At the top of the article, there’s a big picture of Cristina wearing a chef’s hat, holding one of her little cakes. Behind her, a sign reads: I wouldn’t change you for the world but I promise to change the world for you, one cupcake at a time.

Cristina has three copies of the 21st chromosome. Her disorder is called Down syndrome, a label associated with barriers, stereotypes and negativity. A social worker in a Brampton hospital told Cristina’s parents, Mary and Maruizio, not to expect much of their daughter, that she’d never be a doctor or a lawyer.

Mary and Maruizio didn’t care about that. They never expected their two older children to choose those careers either. But they wanted Cristina to have the best life she could after completing high school. Mary did research. There would be nothing for Cristina to do after she graduated, so Mary quit her high profile job to establish a legacy for her daughter and provide a place where people with DS could excel.

She focused on a bakery, and after four years working successfully out of her home, Mary opened Cristina’s Tortina Shop in a Brampton plaza on Ray Lawson Boulevard. Customers from across the GTA come to Cristina’s for cupcake goodies such as red velvet with a shortbread cookie heart and the signature Serendipity, inspired by trisomy 21 with three flavours and at least 21 sprinkles.

Cristina’s Tortina Shop employs seven people ages 18 to 52, who have DS or autism. Mary says she started the business because just talking about Down syndrome would accomplish nothing. At the bakery, staff and customers interact naturally. People coming to the shop see that individuals with special-needs have ability and are capable of producing an excellent product.

After she opened the bakery, Mary was barraged with calls from parents seeking work for their special-needs children. Most young people, having finished school, spend their days watching television, “rather than learning skills, going to college and getting out into the working world,” said Mary.

Outside the bakery, Mary also does her share of advocating for people with developmental disabilities by raising funds, volunteering for the Special Olympics, and organizing an all-abilities soccer team for kids 5 – 9 years old.

“Everyone serves a purpose in this world – no matter how many chromosomes you have, or what your circumstances are,” says Mary. “Cristina picked us, and I don’t want to disappoint her.”

You can’t help your chromosomes but Mary is proof that you can create circumstances that embrace the particular talents of individuals.



Source: The perfect recipe for raising awareness. By Leslie Ferenc, Star Reporter.

Photo credit: Toronto Star

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheila January 9, 2015 at 11:55 am

I read this as well. It warmed my heart.


Jennifer January 9, 2015 at 6:23 pm

What a terrific pair!!!


Crystal January 9, 2015 at 6:31 pm

So inspiring! We should pay a visit to sweet Cristina and her mom Mary!


Donna Kirk January 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm

Good idea. Let’s take the girls…


Sherry Isaac January 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm

It’s settled. Next time I’m in Brampton, I’m going for cupcakes.


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