Making Candy Even Better!

Dawn McCleary photo

Orlando, FL – Dawn McCleary’s bright, colorful designs have to be seen to be believed. That three-tiered wedding cake? There’s no cake in there. It’s made up of hundreds of pieces of brightly wrapped candy woven into an intricate design that mimics a cake but is even better – it stays fresh for weeks. You can eat her creations; you just don’t want to because they’re too pretty.

Dawn has Stevens-Johnson syndrome – a rare, serious disorder in which your skin has hypersensitivity to medication – but that doesn’t keep her from spending hours making her specialty cakes. She also makes bouquets and baby favors. The cakes are made of candy, the flowers in the bouquets are really a blowpop wrapped in colorful paper with candy pieces attached to look like petals, and the tiny baby buggies are made out of a real diaper and candy.

Dawn launched her new business, Candy Dezign Studio, on April 10 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the West Orange Chamber of Commerce. She began her quest years ago with a clear vision of her designs and business. She just needed help in putting all the pieces together. That’s where Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a state agency that helps people with disabilities get or keep a job, came in.

While looking for assistance with her housing needs, Dawn was referred to VR where she met VR Counselor Anna Bachman. Anna paired Dawn with April Schauer and Rogue Gallant from the Central Florida Disability Chamber for guidance in creating an official business plan so the business could be successful. VR also provided Dawn with a website (, business cards, a computer, candy, fabrics, craft tables, shelves, paints, easels, and custom boxes.

Dawn worked hard to create her business and appreciated the support she got from April and Anna. “Whatever I needed to do to make this happen, that’s what I was willing to do,” said Dawn. “I said ‘I’m going to do it,’ and Anna never ever said this can’t be done. She said we’ll figure out a way to get this done.” She also appreciated the support she got from family and friends throughout the long journey.

Anna has enjoyed watching Dawn’s progress through the VR program. “It’s wonderful watching the process as she’s been moving along with her business. The best part is seeing the finished product. You hear about it and know it’s going to be great, but seeing it is wonderful. It keeps you in awe.”

Dawn’s first goal is to have a successful home business. She was recently asked to be a regular vendor at the Orlando Lake Eola Farmer's Market on Sundays. Her long-term goal is to grow her business and one day franchise it. “I’d also really like to have a boutique to teach kids how to do this. People don’t like every kind of candy, but everyone likes some type of candy. It would be customized. Customers can come in, pick their candy, tell me their ideas, and I can draw up a picture of it right then. I just love doing this!”

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website,, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 80 offices across Florida, and last year helped 6,523 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit