Dina Clifford and her husband, Bill, started Mind Flight LLC in May of 2007. The company's Web site is Beyond a Peanut.
"Mind Flight LLC specializes in fun interactive educational products designed to create awareness and help provide a safe environment for children with food allergies," Dina Clifford explains. "Beyond A Peanut allergy flashcards were designed to teach children and those who care for them that staying safe with a nut allergy goes beyond the nut products themselves. My primary goal is to create a safe environment through education. My hope is also that the education will create a better understanding of the challenges around food allergies, and in turn create a more compassionate environment."
The Cliffords' two children, Carlee and Ryan, are both allergic to peanuts. "After Ryan’s diagnosis, I read everything that I could on food allergies," Dina Clifford recalls. "I was overwhelmed by the uncommon places that nuts or nut oils might appear. I didn’t know how I was going to educate his day care providers that keeping him safe would be more than not giving him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I couldn’t expect them to read the books that I had. But after reviewing my cards, it was amazing what a greater understanding they had of the situation, and the important role they would play in his safety."
Mind Flight is not yet a full time job for Dina Clifford, who works in marketing, but "I am hoping I can make it my full time job in the next year or two. I love my business. Everything that I have ever heard about working where your passion lies is true." That's the best thing about having the business, she says; the hardest thing is that "even though I have been in marketing, marketing my own product has been challenging. You have such a personal interest vested in it. My mood can change depending on how many orders I receive. This is a home-based business and sometimes it is hard to turn it off."
Clifford considers Mind Flight to be a success, because "I have heard from parents statements such as 'one of the cards that made the greatest impression on him was not to share food. Interesting. That alone could have averted a disaster.' If I help one parent and make it safer for one child I feel I have made an accomplishment." She says she hears from "quite a few parents and educators. They found that the flashcards really drove home the basic safety principles and helped individuals think beyond the 'allergens' themselves."
"I started by making my own prototype of the cards using clip art and a home laminator," Clifford recalls. "I used the cards in my child’s classroom and shared them with other parents who had children with peanut allergies. They worked. It was so exciting. Family and friends would tell us they had no idea how much potential there was for cross contamination and places that peanuts could appear. I then went to find a sponsor to help me. I am very grateful to the Food Allergy Initiative
for their support. With their help I was able to hire a fantastic graphic designer and have the flashcards published."
"My goal is to expand my product line," says Clifford. "Some of the feedback I have received is that people wish there was a set of cards for dairy, wheat, etc. I hope to expand my product line with a number of innovative items that will help make it easier for children with food allergies and those who are providing care for them."
Having her husband as a partner in allergy education helps a lot, Clifford says. "I have always felt fortunate that Bill has taken our children’s food allergies seriously, and that he is extremely vigilant. I often talk to parents who have a family member that does not fully understand the potential dangers of an anaphylactic reaction. This can put the child's safety at risk, as well as impact the relationship." Carlee and Ryan are also proud of the family enterprise. "They are of course very familiar with the flashcards, and like that I am not only trying to help them but others in their same situation."
"If it is your passion, you will love working on it," Clifford says to other parents thinking of opening a special-needs-related business. "If you believe in it, and it worked for you in your situation, then there is an excellent chance that it will work for others in similar situations. I have spoken with so many parents who were driven to create a product from having filled a need in their situation, and they are helping many others."
More Inspiration and Advice from Dina Clifford:
When did you find out your child had special needs?
When Ryan was fourteen months, he took a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was on a table. He suffered a severe biphasic anaphylactic reaction. Ryan’s doctor said that we would need to be Ryan’s advocate, and while it sounded easy at the time, we had no idea of the challenges that lie ahead. Our lives changed from that day on. Carlee is Ryan’s older sister. She is seventeen months older than Ryan and had never had peanut butter at the time of Ryan’s reaction. We took her in for what we thought would be a “peace of mind” test. Unfortunately, we found out that Carlee too was allergic to peanuts and her numbers were off the charts. Neither my husband nor I have food allergies. This came as a complete shock to us.
How did the diagnosis affect your family?
The diagnosis had a social impact as it related to some of our friendships. We found out very quickly those families and friends who understood the seriousness of the allergy. They had compassion for the situation, wanted to learn about the allergy and what it would take to provide a safe environment when we came over. There were others who just couldn’t 'get it,' or didn’t want to, and those relationships have fallen by the wayside. In addition, it has had a positive impact on our daily diet. When you become an avid label reader, it makes you aware of what you are putting in your body. We eat more fresh foods, and since eating out can be a challenge, we eat better, healthier home-cooked meals. Carlee and Ryan lead active lives. It takes a bit more work behind the scenes to ensure a safe environment, but they are enjoying numerous activities.
What advice would you give to other parents about raising a child with special needs?
You are not in this alone. Even though it may be isolating at times, if you reach out, you will find others with similar experiences. I sometimes believe it can be harder on us than it is on our children. On those hard days, don’t give up, just take the time for yourself and figure out what you will do to rejuvenate.
Read a review of Beyond a Peanut Flashcards by the About.com guide to food allergies, Victoria Groce
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