Muhlenberg Township resident Ashlee Crater did not let a pandemic stop her from showing the world what she has to offer. 34-year-old Ashlee, who has Down Syndrome, teamed up with parents Jeff and Joan Crater to use the quarantine period to create Embrace Marketplace, an online store that sells graphic tees, sweaters, water bottles and more.

In addition to the apparel selected and co-designed by Ashlee, the Craters hope to showcase other products and handmade creations made by people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in the future.

​“I named it [Embrace] because embrace can mean many things. To me, it means hugging, caring for each other and everybody loving each other even if they have a disability,” said Ashlee. “Embrace Marketplace offers apparel and handmade creations made by people with Down Syndrome,” added Jeff and Joan Crater.

“It’s centered around the idea of not only genuinely acknowledging the strengths of people with disabilities – but embracing them.” They went on to note the forced closures of schools and businesses due to the pandemic–which left Ashlee and many of her peers without jobs and without day programs, like the one she attends at Dayspring Homes, Inc.–have been particularly challenging.

https://embracemarketplace.com/products/world-down-syndrome-day-t-shirt-test

“One thing that was important to Ashlee as we began Embrace Marketplace was to be able to donate a portion of every item purchased to her day program, Dayspring Homes, Inc.,” the Craters added. “Dayspring provides a continuum of care which meets the ongoing needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a Christian environment.”

​With the enthusiastic support of her parents, Ashlee is grateful for the chance to pioneer local diversification of the small business market by including those with disabilities in a unique way through Embrace Marketplace.Embrace Marketplace offers entrepreneurship opportunities for people with disabilities “Underemployment for people with disabilities is a prevalent problem everywhere,” said the Crater family.

“A statistic on deliveringjobs.com [states] that 81% of adults 18+ with developmental differences do not have a paid job in the community. We hope through Embrace Marketplace that we’re able to offer a path to employment and/or entrepreneurship opportunities for all people with intellectual and/or developmental differences.”

​Ashlee, whom her parents call “a gift to our family in every sense of the word”, shared her appreciation for her sister, Kelsey, who has been one of her biggest supporters along with her parents. “I’m very excited because my parents are very proud of me. My friends are proud of me. I’m very very proud of myself,” she said.

​In preparation for World Down Syndrome Day on March 21, you can show your support by ordering Ashlee’s Launch T-shirt here: embracemarketplace.com.

This article is also available in: Español (Spanish)