Since 2009 I have had this business, but this business is not about me. It is about the people I meet who share a vision for wellness, and how I can support their voices in the communities they serve.
Stephanie Wright, Co-Founder of Together We Bake, embodies this vision. Her Alexandria-based nonprofit, co-founded with Tricia Sabatini, helps women bake, laugh and grow into the mature citizens we all hope to be. I visited these women and was struck by their buoyancy. They chattered away while measuring dough, humbly receiving and giving input, and staying dedicated to the tasks at hand. They shared a communal experience that would lead not only to a warm community of support (and fresh-from-the-oven cookies!),* but also to transferable workforce skills and self-sufficiency they had yet to experience in life, or at best, had experienced and lost.
The women who join Together We Bake have lived in the darkest shadows of life. Yet as I listen to their stories, it becomes clear to me that the lights that shine in them are some of the brightest.
"Our women learn that what they (and most of us) present to the world is a lamp shade that shields us from being vulnerable, trusting, and depending on others. What they don't realize though, is that this also prevents others from experiencing the strength and goodness of their core self. When we realize this, a light bulb goes on. And then the real work begins."
The real work involves workforce training and personal development that Together We Bake has taken to the next level. The organization's replicable, interdisciplinary model includes job training, goal setting, mindfulness-based practices, financial literacy programs and communications skill building. An impressive 92% of the women sustain the positive changes they make in the program, based on recidivism rates.
Perhaps more importantly, the women begin to see that they (and all of us) have a core self that is good, strong, wise and kind. They learn to recognize the good core in themselves, and in the people around them. They begin to trust each other, lean on each other, and encourage each other. They empathize and grow, speaking the words of advice to each other that they themselves need to hear.
And then, one day, they remove their lamp shade and truly shine.
I do not possess the enviable restraint that the women at Together We Bake have when it comes to tasting cookie dough. (In fact, I happen to be writing this in between baking batches of my favorite holiday molasses spice cookies.) But I do possess an appreciation for the light, and wellness, that Together We Bake is bringing to our community and other areas of the nation it has touched.** It is easy to see that this light intensifies when the women are together, and provides a worthwhile lesson for all of us: unspoken bonds of support take time to form, but when they do, we can be as family, and be in this life together.
So, take off your lamp shade and let your light shine!
**Listen to NPR’s Food for Thought feature on Together We Bake.
Better together starts with you.™
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