Adults with disabilities learn and socialize at Conn. bakery
NORWALK, Conn. (AP) — Very meticulously, Paul Rogers dipped a measuring cup into a tub of flour, brushed off the excess and deposited the ingredient into a mixing bowl set on a table in a room off the kitchen at Beth Israel Chabad.
He did so under the watchful eye of Executive Pastry Chef Michelle Klem who, like Rogers, had started at Crumb Together Bakery — a program offered under the umbrella of the nonprofit Circle of Friends and operated for now, out of the synagogue — roughly a month ago.
The pair were moving slowly through Klem's recipe for chocolate crinkle cookies, one of several of the bakery's offerings made by a staff of adults with disabilities — aged 23 to 40 — overseen by Klem.
"I actually don't have any experience with education, per se, so I'm learning as well. Learning to teach is learning," said Klem, the former owner of CakeSuite in Westport. "Everybody here has their own difficulties, and we just try to teach them."
The bakery, which makes non-dairy and kosher goods, was opened by Freida Hecht in 2018 as part of her work with the nonprofit she founded, Circle of Friends, which provides children, teens and young adults with social experiences. The bakery — whose tagline is "always rising" — takes it a step further and seeks to provide adults with disabilities job skills.
"Seventy five percent of adults with disabilities are unemployed," Hecht said, as Rogers and Klem worked behind her. "After an individual with special needs leaves high school there's no opportunity. There are no jobs. There's no socialization. There's no employment. There's no training."
But with Crumb Together, Hecht, Klem and Occupational and Job Coach Therapist Teresa Salzillo, who was busy in the kitchen with another group making lace cookies, are working to empower these adults.
"They learn marketable skills and it builds confidence and self-esteem and they contribute to society in a very productive way," Hecht said. "Every single baker feels a sense of accomplishment."
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, a group and adults with disabilities comes to the synagogue to bake chocolate chip cookies, chocolate crinkle cookies, snickerdoodles, lace cookies and muffins. Orders are placed online at crumbtogether.org. With the addition of Klem, Crumb Together has expanded its menu, and hopes to grow their offerings further. They also hope to grow their staff of 11 and are looking into the feasibility of moving to a store front, where it could operate as a fully functioning cafe and art gallery.
"We have no specific criteria. Only one thing, you have to be willing to work, to be part of a team of good, kind, wonderful bakers," Hecht said. "That's the only criteria. You have to come in with a smile."
Hecht said the idea for the bakery was based on the results of a survey she administers annually to the clients, the parents of clients, and volunteers at Circle of Friends. Asked what their favorite activity was, the group overwhelmingly said baking and cooking. In addition, she saw an opportunity to provide a particular kind of baked good.
"Everyone loves to bake and everyone loves to taste. And there's no kosher bakery around here," Hecht said.
Hannah Costa, who was in the kitchen with Hillary Lipper, Maddie Hess and Gina Lopriore, said she'd been working at Crumb Together for almost a year. She said she struggled at first measuring out the ingredients, but has since gotten the hang of it.
"I like being here because I like making friends and it gives me lessons how to make stuff like cookies," Costa said.
It's crucial to Hecht and Klem that the adults with disabilities are the ones to do the work and all around the kitchen, that was evident. Rogers and fellow baker Kathryn Campbell were making progress on the chocolate crinkle cookies, while inside, Lipper, Hess, Lopriore and Costa were loading the first baking sheet into the oven. Even those who are not able to bake fill important roles, whether its packaging, labeling or delivering orders. Mistakes happen, but they're part of the process.
"They make mistakes, and people drop eggs, and it's great. When someone drops an egg we say, 'Congratulations, now you're a real baker.'"
Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com