Honoring Forrest's voice
Young business owner Forrest Beaudoin-Friede advocates and creates
Forrest Beaudoin-Friede is a musician, a civil rights advocate, a history and archeology buff and the co-owner of a fledgling business. He also happens to have an extra chromosome.
Forrest was born with Down’s Syndrome — a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21 — which is associated with assorted physical and intellectual growth challenges.
None of that, however, has slowed the seemingly indefatigable 21-year-old down. Since his high school graduation in 2016, Forrest has embarked on a busy, productive life that includes starting a gluten-free bakery business with his younger brother, Rowan.
Forrest’s mother, Lisa Beaudoin, lists her son’s accomplishments with pride, but none of it has ever seemed out of the realm of possibility.
“We do not refer to him as a person with a disability,” Beaudoin said. “We refer to him as a person who has a genetic alteration.”
Forrest was born at home in New York City during a heavy snowstorm. At the time, there was no clue that he would face any additional challenges. It would take some time before the Down’s syndrome diagnosis was revealed.
“Somehow, his pediatrician didn’t see anything,” Beaudoin says. “Forrest didn’t have a heart condition or a simian crease across his hand. No medical professional said anything to us. When he was about eight months old, we became nervous because he had some gastro-intestinal challenges and started slipping down off of developmental milestones.”
Weeks and months passed without an explanation, but Beaudoin had a sense that there was an explanation.
“I think I knew in my heart when he was a year old, and it was confirmed when he was 16 months old,” she said.
Though she initially resisted having him tested, she eventually conceded when her husband at the time insisted. She visited a pediatric neurologist who asked her why she didn’t want to have the test conducted, and if she was afraid of being mocked by other mothers.
She had a short, but telling reply: “I’m not afraid of anyone.”
“When Forrest was born, I wasn’t going to jump onto the disability construct,” she said. “I was just going to raise him. We wanted to work on supporting Forrest’s brain growth. To get his brain stimulated for maximum dendritic growth as early as we could before he was five years old.”
Beaudoin sought to help her young son develop into his “fully potentialized self.” He walked and talked late, but he continued to make gains and express a fierce tenacity to engage with the world around him. The first bump came when Forrest was in ninth grade. Not long into the school year, a group of administrators called upon Beaudoin to remove her son from the general education classes he was enrolled in.
“High school is when I started to have concerns,” she said. “Not about Forrest and what he could do. But that’s when I came up against a world that said, ‘you’re disabled, you don’t belong in a regular classroom, we don’t really believe in your abilities.’ There were a lot of limits.”
Beaudoin said she became aware that people labeled as disabled are “hyper marginalized in all sectors of American society.” She said they’re often seen as “not quite worthy, not quite employable, not quite capable of being a real friend.”
“The systemic challenges were so profound that I could not turn my head away from the reality of kids like Forrest who grow up in Manchester, daughters and sons of immigrants, of poor families, who had zero chance of graduating with a diploma from high school,” Beaudoin said. “It’s rough out there. High school showed me the ways in which ableism — discrimination based on ability — is very real in America and in our systems and institutions.”
Not long after, a house fire damaged the family’s Temple home. This necessitated a move to a small apartment in Peterborough while repairs were made. It was there that Forrest began to experience a newfound freedom.
“A month into it, when he was a junior in high school, he said, ‘I love you, but I am never moving back to Temple,’” Beaudoin said. “In a month of taking care of himself around Peterborough, he understood very clearly that his autonomy and independence depended on living in a walkable community.”
Forrest continued to persist and graduated with a high school diploma from ConVal High School, completing the Business Management program in the Career and Technical Education curriculum. It was there that the first hints of his entrepreneurial spirit began to appear.
“We have been a gluten free family pretty much since Forrest was a baby — long before gluten free was trendy,” Beaudoin said. “We have been through many iterations of pancakes, and just because there is more gluten-free food around doesn’t necessarily mean it tastes as good as we’d like it to taste. Forrest’s project at school was a gluten free bakery. His brother Rowan said, ‘this is a super idea, Forrest. Let’s do it.’ So they worked on a business model, and they test baked all of March 2016.”
Not long after, Best Brothers Bakery was born and a line of delicious, gluten-free goods began to appear at farmer’s markets.
“They make artisanal baked goods,” Beaudoin said. “They make a pecan sticky bun that’s so good you’ll want to eat three.”
Photo by Kendal J. Bush
Forrest Beaudoin-Friede and his younger brother, Rowan, at a farmers market in Merrimack in summer 2017.
The brothers bake out of their mother’s Temple home and are investigating a homestead license that would allow them to wholesale to restaurants and place their bread in stores. Forrest’s specialty is the duo’s pancake mix. It has a longer shelf life, and the ambitious, young business owner does most of the work himself: He can mix it, label it, bag it and prepare it for delivery.
“Best Brothers Bakery’s goal is to ensure that Forrest has sustainable self-employment that requires minimal support,” Beaudoin said.
Forrest fills what little free time he has with playing Native American drums, performing at open-mic nights, spending time with his girlfriend, volunteering at the town library and community dinners, tidying up his Peterborough apartment (he attributes this task to his mother’s to-do list) and singing. He’s also the Monadnock Chapter Leader of ABLE NH — a grassroots organization dedicated to working toward equality while advocating for the civil rights of individuals and families with disabilities. He acts as its representative to the board of directors.
As for the mission that Forrest becomes his fully-potentialized self? Mission accomplished.
“He’s got an infectious laugh and a really lyrical way of communicating that fundamentally gets to the heart of the matter much of the time,” Beaudoin said. “He’s much more authentic and has great emotional intelligence. He can read others well and knows how they’re feeling. And he knows himself quite well and can communicate his own needs.”
Look for Best Brothers Bakery goods at the Merrimack Farmer’s Market, the New Ipswich Farmer’s Market and Peterborough area stores this fall.
Bill Burke is the managing editor for custom publications at McLean Communications in Manchester. He is also a columnist for Parenting NH Magazine.