A Valpo Life in the Spotlight: Jamie Fankhauser

A Valpo Life in the Spotlight: Jamie Fankhauser

Jamie Fankhauser, founder of Bun's Soapbox in downtown Valpo, has made it her mission to ensure that special needs individuals in her community receive secure employment and support. She makes a point of hiring individuals with special needs at her business, giving them a chance to meaningfully contribute to society. 

“It's not about the money for them,” Fankhauser said. “They just want to be part of something, they want to be with people. They want a family and friends. Individuals with special needs can teach us things that no one else can. They are a vital part of what God has given this area, but they're in hiding. If we don't spend time with them, we won’t be properly refined or changed for life. Of all the people in my life, they have done the most to change me for the better.”

Before she became a business owner, Fankhauser worked for 25 years as a surgical nurse. Even though nursing was her main occupation, she kept telling her friends and relatives that she wanted to make soap. However, her entrepreneurial journey didn’t begin until her youngest adopted daughter, who has autism, was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid and can also cause dry skin. While searching for a remedy for her daughter’s skin irritation, Fankhauser learned about the properties of raw goat’s milk soap from a friend and former coworker. After her friend showed her how to make the soap, Fankhauser discovered that it helped keep her daughter’s skin moisturized and healthy. 

In October of 2018, Fankhauser opened Bun's Soapbox and began selling her soap – which she makes by hand to this day – along with other goat milk-based products like lotion, deodorant, and shampoo bars. Last year, Buns Soapbox partnered with Meijer to establish a storefront in Meijer’s Valpo location. Fankhauser also hopes to open another storefront in Meijer’s Highland location later this year. 

Once the word got out that Bun's Soapbox was hiring special needs individuals, parents kept asking Fankhauser to hire their special needs children. Although she could not hire any new employees, Fankhauser did not want to turn anyone away. Last June, she established a monthly connect group for individuals with special needs. The group, which is sponsored by Buns Soapbox, now boasts almost 50 members and is geared to help its members socialize and develop relationships with one another. However, this connect group is only a foreshadowing of a much more ambitious project.

“Autistic young adults can stay in the school system until the age of 21,” Fankhauser said. “After that, they stay at home, so we at Bun's Soapbox have shifted gears. We’re planning to do more than just employ autistic or special needs individuals. Our hope is to create a center like the YMCA where special needs individuals can attend workshops that show them how to cook, finance, clean a restroom, or take care of their pets. We also want it to be a place where they can hang out and be part of the community.”

While she and her team work toward making the center a reality, Fankhauser continues to take great pleasure in seeing her employees with special needs thrive.  

“My passion is seeing them win their victories,” said Fankhauser. “We had a young gentleman named Louis come to Bun's looking for a job about four years ago. He was 26 and had never had a job in his life. Nobody thought that he would ever have one. We hired him and we simply cannot keep up with him. Louis’ dad used to take him to the movies, so, with his first paycheck, Louis took his dad to the movies. His dad was crying. We’re not just impacting special needs individuals: we're giving the parents hope, too.” 

When she wants to unwind, Fankhauser enjoys hiking or going for walks. Fankhauser also enjoys reading autobiographies and faith-based books. She claims that Bun's Soapbox would not be able to help change so many lives if it weren’t for the kind-heartedness of the Valpo community.

“I could have set up shop in any other ‘little town,’” Fankhauser said. “What we do would have never been this successful somewhere else. It's the people. The people want to make a difference and serve the Valpo community. They want to help others, but we have to create places where they can see that every purchase they make is making a difference. That's what people really want anymore.”

Fankhauser looks forward to continuing to grow her business and, in doing so, providing special needs individuals with much-needed jobs and opportunities to connect with others.