The Breaktime Bakery is a youth entrepreneurship program of New City Neighbors,a small nonprofit located in the Creston neighborhood of Grand Rapids, MI. For seven weeks each summer, 12-15 Jr. High School students in the neighborhood are taught basic job skills that increase their chances of succeeding in the work place. A video highlighting this effort can be seen on the CFA website.
The emergence and development of this bakery is, in many ways, a typical story of Partners in Neighborhood Transformation, a regional coaching/training ministry that assists community leaders and organizations in the implementation of asset-based principles and practices. Several years ago, a PiNT coach guided Fourth Reformed Church through a neighborhood discovery process that resulted in a community-oriented action plan. The action plan linked a strong youth ministry at Fourth with neighborhood opportunities for youth development and included the formation of a new nonprofit focused on this linkage. As a result, New City Neighbors was established, with the bakery, a community garden, and an urban farm emerging as key strategies of engagement.
The sustained coaching involvement of PiNT (then the Equipping Church Network of Volunteers in Service) remains in the background, but the presence of those who are skilled in ABCD training, coaching, mentoring, and facilitation has helped create a neighborhood environment of collaboration and participation. This has led to residents and organizational leaders taking greater responsibility for the development of neighborhood youth and the improvement of physical places.
The Breaktime Bakery recently inaugurated its 7th season. As PiNT Coach, I recently sat down with Eric Schalk, Executive Director of New City Neighbors and Leader of Breaktime, to get an update of progress. Eric reports the bakery continues to build participants’ self-confidence and gives a positive trajectory to many individual stories. Nearly 60 local students have been involved over the years, and most have graduated from High School (or are “on track” to graduate). Several have sustained relationships with Eric and other mentors, and some have gone on to local culinary schools to hone their skills and passion for preparing good, fresh food(s).
The challenge of imparting basic skills (i.e. measuring food ingredients for recipes), teaching teamwork, and dealing with conflict is an annual reality, but the involvement of parents and other neighborhood stakeholders has helped meet this challenge and build greater capacity for good work. Connections have been made to the community garden and urban farm so that locally grown items are used in many of the baking goods and five high school students are being employed as a key step toward a trade school or college education. The presence of a college intern and volunteer mentors has strengthened relational trust and program efficiency. Parents and neighbors and local stakeholders purchase enough baked goods to ensure a good-sized net profit at the end of the seven weeks.
Eric is already thinking not only of implementing future improvements but also of fulfilling significant hopes and dreams. Improvements include developing more mentors for follow-up interaction and providing more structure/resources for job skills training. Dreams include a big increase in bakery participants, a year-round effort that provides employment for neighborhood youth and adults, and the purchase of a retail space in the Creston business district. Who knows how long it will take for these hopes to be translated into actual circumstances? However, one can be assured that PiNT will be a supportive, encouraging presence to Eric and his team at New City Neighbors as they seek to identify and develop the assets, gifts, and skills of those in their community.