RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — One Westover Hills bakery is baking up a way for young adults with special abilities to start a career thanks to a program endorsed by the Virginia Department of Education.
Tablespoons Bakery is run through the non-profit Next Move Program, whose goal is to combat the 70% unemployment rate among young adults in Virginia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports individuals with disabilities represent 26% of the United States population and is the largest and most diverse minority group with every socioeconomic group, gender identity, age, religion, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation represented within it.
Around 50 young adults will go through Tablespoons Bakery’s kitchen every year, interning and getting real world experience, all while having a little fun.
After serving the community at a local farmers market in Forest Hill, Tablespoons Bakery was able to open their first brick-and-mortar location in the former parsonage house of Westover Hills United Methodist Church in 2021.
Shelley Lantz started on the Tablespoons Bakery team in 2018 as an operations assistant. Now, she mentors other young interns eager to learn more about baking and running a restaurant.
She can tell you exactly which treat is her favorite with a smile.
“My favorite thing on the menu here is the s’mores cookie dough pie,” she said.
Lantz loves the singing and dancing that goes along with the learning experience. Walking into the Tablespoons Bakery, you can find the group of interns baking, listening to Disney music and laughing.
Lantz said she’s gained new skills since working at the bakery — and not just how to bake.
“I’ve been working on the money usually,” she explained. “And I’m really great at money.”
Everyone else on the team has learned new skills too, thanks to a team of educators like Elizabeth Redford, the executive director and founder of Tablespoons Bakery and the Next Move Program.
“We’re able to really do hands-on job training and work on workplace readiness skills, social skills, independent living skills, and of course give our young adults a taste of what it’s like to work in a restaurant,” Redford explained.
The Next Move Program’s interns learn how to make transactions and talk to customers too, something Redford said is crucial to empowering them.
The building also has a classroom upstairs where the interns learn more about how to interview for jobs.
“They have so much to offer both to their communities, but also to a prospective employer. And yet, they graduate and they just sit at home sometimes indefinitely,” she said. “And when we think about work, work is so much more than just having a place you go every day from nine to five.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 80% of adults with disabilities in the United States are unemployed and not engaged in community programming.
Those interested in the Tablespoons Bakery internship can apply here. Applicants should be between 18 and 22 years old, in high school and receiving IEP services.
To look at sweets offered on their menu, take a look here.