Labor of love: West Orange and Maplewood women start store to benefit the autism community

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Beloved Bath, a business in Maplewood, is transforming how the world views people with autism and their capabilities. Business partners and longtime friends Pat Miller, of West Orange, and Pam Kattouf, of Maplewood, have created a place filled with amazing scents and a caring mindset for customers with both specialized and general needs. Beloved Bath offers on-site vocational training and personalized care for its employees with autism and other specialized needs.

“Our training process varies per person, there are some employees that only put wicks in a candle; others handle mixing,” Kattouf told the newspaper. “Some employees have job coaches that help with certain job and communication barriers.”

It goes further than just individualized jobs and coaches. Miller and Kattouf’s training process and job inclusiveness includes visual schedules, skill-based work and various modifications. This thoughtful process, from top to bottom, allows employees with autism to be involved in every step of the production process. They say that this care for detail separates their business from many others that do similar work.

“Some employees also have picture schedules for nonverbal speakers, so that they know what they are doing during the time that they are working,” Miller told the newspaper. “We also have pictures next to every single product on our website, so that nonverbal speakers can mark the differences between our products, whether it be our candles or soaps.”

Miller and Kattouf became friends even before their sons were diagnosed with autism; after the diagnoses, their bond became even stronger.

Inspired by their sons, the two women were determined to offer products that provide comfort and care to various members of the autism community. Realizing that high-quality raw materials feel soothing to their sons, they decided to open a store making products that both smell and feel great to use.

“Pat and I met 20 years ago on a playground. As we got older and had children, we reconnected when both of our sons were diagnosed with autism,” Kattouf said. “Our goal was to help our children feel better and succeed. Once we discovered that lavender and salt helped our boys feel calm and relaxed, we said, ‘Let’s open a business for this.’”

While their materials and products have a calming and soothing effect on people with autism, Miller and Kattouf stressed that their products make all people feel good, regardless of background, lifestyle or medical diagnosis.

“We don’t want a sympathy purchase, or to make products that don’t work, but people feel obligated to purchase. We make products that everyone can use, and that make people come back and say, we want 10 more,” Kattouf said.

Throughout the women’s business journey, Beloved Bath has always maintained the mission of assisting those in the autism community — even above profit.

“We want to show the world that people with autism are fully capable and successful members of society,” Kattouf said. “People with autism find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain employment after graduating from school. Our goal is to change that.”

Beloved Bath, located at 220 Rutgers St. in Maplewood, has been working toward that goal for three years now.

“Maplewood has been a really inclusive, thoughtful and accepting community for us,” Miller said. “I feel like Maplewood was inclusive before it was a thought in other towns and cities.”

In addition to dynamic training practices and a thoughtful business model for consumers, Beloved Bath also has built-in work breaks and socialization practice for its employees.

“We will often group employees together with similar traits so that they can relate to each other and form a bond,” Miller said. “The work breaks are extremely important to making our employees feel happy and form connections while they’re here.

Kattouf and Miller, along with other parents, also co-founded a school called Garden Academy in West Orange; Miller recently served on the board for the school, which is dedicated to delivering top care to students with autism.

“Our school caters to children, so we do one-on-one or two-on-one learning,” Miller said. “We have between 25 and 34 students, and we make sure that they have the kind of individualized care and learning that they need to succeed.”

Community members, such as Carol Cohen and her daughter Michelle, who works for Beloved Bath, have nothing but positive things to say about the business.

“We’ve been involved with Beloved Bath for a year. My daughter loves working here. She develops skills in a safe space where she’s always learning,” Carol Cohen said.

Kattouf and Miller also host charity events, such as T-ball games, and open houses for students to come in to learn skills helpful to them when entering the workforce.

“We have schools that come in for work-based learning, where students learn both hard and soft skills that translate to the real world when they are ready to enter the workforce,” Kattouf said.

The two women have also launched a charity foundation and a podcast called “Making Sense and Scents,” designed to help families with members on the spectrum, as well as to provide business advice.

“We bring on guests to our podcast that have some knowledge to share on what it’s like to help people with autism, or what it’s like to start a business,” Miller said.

Photos by Javon Ross