According to the Montgomery County Commission on People with Disabilities Annual Report 2016, 70% of young adults with disabilities ages 17-34 have cognitive disabilities and 55% of Montgomery County Public School students with disabilities ages 3-21 are students with autism, a specific learning disability or speech/language impairment.
As you can imagine, if you’re a young adult with a cognitive disability today, the odds of getting a job are pretty slim. In fact, according to the Maryland Disability Status Report, 2014 American Community Survey, the employment rate for working-age people with cognitive disabilities is 28.8%, compared to 80.8% of working-age people without disabilities. That’s pretty low.
But, there is hope on the horizon.
A small non-profit bakery in Maryland called Sunflower Bakery is working to change these odds. Everyday, students with learning differences, eager to get on-the-job training for employment, come to Sunflower Bakery to learn the skills to find their next job in baking, pastry or other food industry.
Sparked by a sweet tooth and a passion for ensuring that people of all abilities have access to meaningful employment, owners Sara Portman Milner and Laurie Wexler, envisioned the art of pastry and baking as a pathway to opportunities for people with learning differences.
Today, that vision is a reality.
In fact, Sunflower has provided more than 42,000 hours of training; served more than 65 young adults and has helped to train a total of 165 students, staff and teens at the Sunflower Bakery and Café Sunflower.
Sunflower Training Program
The program is intense and requires a serious commitment from its participants. Students spend 260 hours of formal pastry instruction and learn an extensive and customized curriculum. They get employee development, training and preparation for ServSafe Certification (which is required to work in an established restaurant).
“Out of the house (or the basement) and into the world–what a relief! It’s not just a job, it’s a career!”
Many students struggle with communication, problem solving, time management resume writing and interviewing. Teachers work with students in all of these areas to ensure a seamless transition into their next job. After their training, they then move into a 300-hour paid internship in Sunflower’s production kitchen. Once they complete their internship, they receive guidance and assistance to help find a job.
“It’s given me self-esteem, self-worth and really taught me I can do something if I put my mind to it.”
-Steven, after 3 years employed at Stella’s Bakery
Good for Business
Companies like Clydes, Founding Farmers, Safeway and Spring Mill Bread Company have all partnered with Sunflower Bakery and hired trained graduates. They have discovered the many benefits from successfully integrating a diverse population into their workforce, including those with learning difficulties.
Businesses which successfully integrate everyone, whether there are language, racial or ethnic differences, differences in sexual orientation, or learning styles, provide an atmosphere where all employees are made to feel equal and valuable.
In addition, there are some specific business benefits to inclusive hiring:
- Higher Productivity. Employees with learning differences typically exhibit high employer loyalty and low turnover.
- Expanded Talent Pool. Individuals with learning differences are an underused pool of talented, skilled, and qualified applicants.
- Positive Public Relations and Increased Market Share. Inclusive hiring has a positive impact on a company’s image and can influence purchasing decisions.
- Diversity and Morale. Employees report a higher degree of workplace satisfaction when working in integrated teams. Your decision to be an inclusive employer will help your business to reap the benefits of greater customer and employee satisfaction.
Great Baked Goods
In addition to all of the good deeds Sunflower Bakery does helping people with learning difficulties, the baked goods coming out of the bakery on a daily basis are impressive. All one has to do is step in the doors to enjoy the sweet aromas of homemade cookies, cakes and pies. From brownie lollipops to pecan pies, chocolate crinkle cookies to lemon bundt cake, Sunflower Bakery competes with any bakery on the block.
The next time you’re looking for some baked goods to cater your business breakfast, think of Sunflower Bakery, “caring is our main ingredient”.