People - Expand Your Mind
Crazy Aaron’s Puttyworld Employs Adults With Disabilities
This supplier’s unusual promotional product is made by a very unique, dedicated work force.
It was 1998, and Aaron Muderick was smack-dab in the middle of the growing dot-com world, designing websites when the Internet as we know it today was just taking its first toddling steps. At the same time, he was consistently on the lookout for the ultimate desk toy, one that would relieve stress and give his fingers some much-needed exercise.
“I spent long days at the computer, so my mind often wandered and my hands were fidgety, and I knew many of my colleagues felt the same way,” he says. “I decided we should give putty a try.”
Muderick convinced his fellow restless coworkers to pool resources so they could buy 100 pounds of Bouncing Putty from a chemical supplier. Once the material arrived, it was quickly disseminated across the office. In no time, all 100 pounds were gone.
“It was neat,” says Muderick, “but it certainly wasn’t pretty, and it was way too small to be big fun. So I thought, ‘How can I make this better?’ It had been developed for the mass market in 1957. Over 40 years later, I figured the advances in science and engineering meant there were ways to improve it.”
After self-instruction in chemistry and physics and a whole lot of experimentation, Muderick developed the first batch of what he called Thinking Putty. He bought a scale and plastic bags, and started selling his putty from underneath his desk. He even figured out how to create different colors so his colleagues could pick out their favorites.
That’s when Muderick’s colleagues named him “Crazy Aaron.” And it stuck.
For several years, he continued to sell his Thinking Putty on the side. Then, the dot-com bubble burst, and in 2001 he established Crazy Aaron’s Puttyworld (asi/47056), setting up shop in his parents’ basement. At first, it was only Muderick and his wife Elizabeth, currently the company’s Chief Putty Officer. But only a year later, they needed more room. “I quickly realized that this product was so unique and the creation process so sensitive, that I was going to have to build my own factory to make it,” he says. “So that’s just what I did.”
But with a larger facility and the resulting increase in sales came the demand for a significantly larger work force. After much discussion, the Mudericks decided to hire adults with developmental and physical disabilities. “I had worked with individuals with disabilities in the past and found it an extremely positive and rewarding experience,” says Muderick. “So when we reached that tipping point, I knew that was a direction I wanted to take.” Today, Crazy Aaron’s Puttyworld employs 45 in-house staff members as well as more than 1,000 individuals who work full-time for the company across 12 vocational work centers in the Philadelphia area.
Crazy Aaron’s still maintains its initial factory, where the putty is produced. It’s then sent to the work centers along with tins, labels, boxes and other packaging materials. Once the facility receives the supplies, vocational workers weigh, fill, pack and label the putty tins.
“The work provides direction, structure and sense of purpose, and the putty itself is fun stuff, so morale stays high,” says Muderick. “This particular job allows for different tasks to be assigned to individuals with an extremely wide range of functioning, which leads to high employee satisfaction rates. Many individuals with very severe disabilities can participate in meaningful work every day and get paid for doing so. We get lots of letters from our staff and their families saying their experience with us has been life-changing. I feel very lucky to be able to give them that opportunity.”