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Steamboat Toffee Co. employs Horizons clients for packaging

— Bill Mason loves the smell of candy.

He loves the taste of it, too, and he had plenty of opportunities to taste homemade toffee on his first day at a new job with the Steamboat Toffee Co.

Mason was the end of a three-person assembly line Fri­day in a commercial kitchen near Hayden, where he, Rhi Gif­­ford and Melinda Orr learned to measure, package and seal individual samples of toffee.

The three are Horizons Specialized Services clients with developmental disabilities, but their vocational counselor, Mike Dwire, has helped connect them with fulfilling work and on-the-job support for their new endeavor.

"I'm always going to be a working man," Mason said. "It's the only thing I want to be doing. I just want to be working and doing usual things."

Mason's enthusiasm for his new position is just what Dwire hopes to see.

"Our goal is to get them a job they like and want to do," Dwire said. "It makes them feel more a part of the community, and feel a sense of pride."

On Friday, the three Hori­zons clients learned tricks of the toffee-packaging trade from company owner and Steamboat Springs resident Pete DeWolf.

DeWolf, who started the company three years ago, has expanded into online sales territory, moving from a local market to sending packages across the world.

He's training his three new employees by having them wrap the samples for his kickoff party Nov. 21 at Sweetwater Grill.

Before the event, the team will have weighed, packaged and sealed 400 samples. As they worked, DeWolf walked among them and excitedly pointed out how they could be more exact and efficient with their packaging. He helped Gifford measure the samples on a digital scale, helping her with her math skills in reading the fractions.

"It's an enthusiastic and motivated group of people helping with a business," he said. "There's something really nice about working with people who are enjoying what they're doing."

Turning to Gifford, he asked, "What's the first thing you want to do in the morning?"

"Eat chocolate," Gifford replied with a laugh.

Lucky for her, the small-batch toffee is topped with bitter chocolate and pecans and has whole almonds embedded inside.

As Mason finished sealing each package of sweets, Orr emblazoned them with a sticker that reads "Packaged for you by Horizons Specialized Services."

So far, the work crew comprises only three, but DeWolf hopes to hire three more to help ship online orders.

"I hope we have the need for 30 of you guys," he said.

Dwire's clients are hired as independent contractors, but he said the ultimate goal is to have them working directly for the company. Wages are yet to be determined but will be comparable to other workers, based on production, Dwire and DeWolf said. The workers will receive monthly paychecks.

Dwire said other Horizons clients have jobs at places such as City Market, Safeway, Rex's American Bar & Grill and salons, but most of the work is cleaning duty.

Gifford used to do laundry but "hated it."

"So far, so good," she said about her new job. "I love candy. It's my favorite."