History

Sara Portman Milner and Laurie WexlerIn June 2008, a group of parents, professionals and activists concerned with the lack of skill-based training and employment for individuals with learning differences created Sunflower Bakery.

Co-founders, Laurie Wexler, Sara Portman Milner and Dina Leener met with governmental and agency leaders and area service providers to better understand the shortage of opportunities.

The need for an additional skilled, on-the-job training program in the Metro DC area was clear.

In May 2009, Sunflower received 501(C)(3), non-profit status.Sunflower Pilot at Beth Sholom, Fall 2009 The organization began as a modest eight-month pilot program in donated kitchen space at Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, MD. Once stakeholder interest in the program was established and success in training was demonstrated, foundations and individual donors became increasingly interested in our mission.

At the same time, a market study was undertaken by an MBA class at American University’s Kogod School of Business, which confirmed the previous assessment to target the kosher market.

On February 15, 2010, the Sunflower Bakery moved into its current warehouse space at 8507 Ziggy Lane in Gaithersburg. An added incentive for the move was the lessee’s agreement to donate his heavy baking equipment to Sunflower Bakery as part of the deal.  Sunflower Graduation 2016From that point to the present, the program has grown and expanded to serving 12-14 new students each year.

In April 2015, Cafe’ Sunflower was opened in No. Bethesda, providing employment to additional adults with learning differences in front-of-house operations and customer service. A collaboration of Sunflower Bakery with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes; the Café has shifted to a training format that provides a nine-month employment program.