The best gifts are made locally, right here in the Triangle.

Extraordinary Ventures Gifts — also known as EV Gifts — offers soy candles, bath and body products and jewelry, all crafted by adults with developmental disabilities in Chapel Hill.

EV Gifts is part of Extraordinary Ventures a nonprofit dedicated to providing adults across the autism spectrum with paid employment. EV consists of six different businesses, including a laundry service, office services, bus detailing, dog-walking services, an events center and EV Gifts.

Kris Benbow, EV’s business operations manager, has been with the company for two years. The business was created 10 years ago by parents with a clear mission.

“The parents wanted more for their children,” Benbow said. “They found EV to be a sustainable environment that could provide meaningful paid work for their children.”

Since the business started, EV has tried out many different ventures. After years of expanding to new ventures, they settled on the six existing businesses, as they offered the most opportunities to EV’s 56 employees.

Tyler, one of EV’s employees, struggled with employment before he came to EV and said he did not know what the future held. Luckily, he found his place at EV.

“EV gave me the wings to soar and gave me something I can work for,” Tyler said.

One of the best thing about the gift business, Benbow says, is that it allows employees from all levels of the autism spectrum to take part. Whether it requires hand-crafting soy candles or producing artwork to turn into jewelry, the venture is inclusive to all skills and abilities.

According to Benbow, inclusivity and opportunity are crucial to creating a meaningful work environment for the employees.

“It’s not just a paycheck,” Benbow said. “It’s a way to fill your time. It’s a community. It’s a purpose. It’s independence.”

EV Gifts gives opportunities to all of its employees, regardless of their abilities and strengths. Photo courtesy of Kris Benbow.

All of EV’s ventures are housed in its campus on South Elliott Road. EV Gifts makes all of its products by hand, onsite, with a candle workshop on its first floor.

As of right now, EV is operating off of 80 percent revenue and 20 percent donations. As a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, all proceeds go back into the business in hopes of making it totally sustainable.

EV Gifts’ most popular products include its Oak and Honey Candles and its bracelets. The Hot Apple Cider candle is a bestseller in the holiday season. While EV Gifts does not have its own storefront, its handmade products can be bought online as well as in local Whole Foods locations, West Elm at Southpoint, Cameron Gallery and other local storefronts and pop-up shops. 

Since getting off the ground in Chapel Hill, the EV model has been replicated nationally, with businesses in Michigan and New York. While further growth and expansion is always a possibility, Benbow says the current mission is sustainability, and EV Gifts’ loyalty will always remain to providing its employees with the best opportunities. 

“Our overall mission is to create meaningful, self-sustaining, paid employment for adults with developmental disabilities,” Benbow said.

Featured image: EV Gifts’s candles are all hand-poured and made in small batches. Photo courtesy of Kris Benbow.