A Virginia nonprofit provides workforce training and personal development through baking.
Together We Bake in Alexandria helps women who are down on their luck gain self-confidence and workforce skills.
Colida Johnson didn't really care much for baking much when she went to the program in 2014.
"I found myself in an unfortunate situation,” she said. “I have a felony on my record and I was out of work for two years."
Her probation officer told her about Together We Bake.
“Baking is fun,” cofounder Stephanie Wright said. “I mean, it’s therapeutic. Putting your hands, you know, mixing the granola, you feel like you’re really, you’re part of it."
During an eight-week course, women spend time in the kitchen learning baking skills and in the office training to run their own businesses one day.
They sell the treats they bake at local farmers markets and online.
“We do a lot of empowerment life skills, and a lot of people say that’s the part that was really helpful for them,” Wright said.
For Johnson, that meant being vulnerable.
"So I've experienced trauma in my past that prior to this program I had never spoke about before, and it was because I never felt safe enough to even discuss it with anyone else,” she said. “You know, I came in here to get a job but I really found peace."
In seven years, 172 women have graduated from the program, earning their food safety certification and going into the workforce.
"We knew women would be able to get into that industry easier, and there's a lot of movement,” Wright said. “You can move up very quickly.”
Johnson found her career at Together We Bake as the program manager.
"We support each other, and that's what most of these ladies need,” she said. “That's what I needed. I didn't always get that in my own household, so to be able to come to work and get it, that meant a lot to me."
Reported by Leon Harris, produced by Michelle Montgomery and edited by Scott Eisenhuth.