RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — A bakery opened its doors for the first time in a Virginia neighborhood Wednesday morning, but cookies and muffins are just a small part of its mission.
For four years, Tablespoons Bakery has operated out of kitchens selling their items at farmer's markets and events — but the new brick-and-mortar shop is going to provide young adults, who have diverse abilities, with more chances to practice their social skills.
"I'm already trying to relax my face because I know that it's gonna be really exhausting smiling so much," said Kelsey Dunn. "And just seeing everybody from the community finally getting to know better our bakers, and their joy, the joy that they have for their craft of baking, but also for selling."
Shelley Lantz and Chris Brennan are just two of Tablespoons' full-time employees.
"I'm very, very happy that we are officially, officially open," said Brennan.
The two are now master bakers and pros at customer service.
"I used to be shy at first, and now I’ve really opened up," Brennan noted. " I get paid, and it’s something I love doing."
Tablespoons launched in 2017 as a way to help adults with developmental disabilities work on readiness skills and independent living skills. It's part of The Next Move, a nonprofit that provides on-the-job training for young adults.
"We believe that when given support and encouragement, anybody can succeed, anybody can get a job," explained Dunn, who is the director of education for The Next Move.
Dunn and co-founder of Tablespoons, Elizabeth Redford, were both special education teachers, and, once the bakery is up and running, they will welcome about 50 young adults with diverse abilities to the upstairs of the building.
They'll spend half of their day in the classroom learning resume skills and interview skills, and the second half will be spent in the kitchen or bakery making and selling cookies.
"We want the larger community to see that these young adults have so much to offer, whether it be training opportunities that they could help to start in their own organizations or even employments," said Redford. "We want them to connect with that and to really see our mission in action."