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Young people learn life and work skills in a bakery

Young man labeling a clear bag of cookie dough, wearing a baseball cap and a blue t-shirt.
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Kemani Turton-Jones is one of the top salespeople at Tablespoons Bakery in Richmond

Tablespoons Bakery in Richmond has found a recipe for success.


KEMANI TURTON-JONES: Welcome to Tablespoons! How can we help you today?


KEMANI TURTON-JONES: We have some Shark Week cookies.

CUSTOMER: Let's try one of those.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: What else do you have in mind?

CUSTOMER: A banana muffin.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: You got it, pal.

ELIZABETH REDFORD: Kemani is a baker.


ELIZABETH REDFORD: That is his title with us. He works, though, in the kitchen, as well as in sales.


ELIZABETH REDFORD: My name is Elizabeth Redford. I'm the founder of Tablespoons Bakery. I am a former classroom special educator. What we get to do every day that's a little bit different, is do hands-on job training and related social skills out in the community for young adults with developmental disabilities.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: As you can see, this is where the magic happens. This is where customers come and buy some cookies. This is the dining room.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: Where customers come in and dine on one of our baked goods.

ELIZABETH REDFORD: Tablespoons, I like to say, is almost like a satellite public high school. The curriculum model I've created, and it's been endorsed and approved by the Virginia Department of Education. So, when young adults who are in high school from area school systems join us during their school day, they are spending half of their time in a dedicated classroom site with us.


ELIZABETH REDFORD: And then they spend the other part of their time with us out at a job site within the bakery. We've also been able to become a supportive employment site and hire some of our young adults.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: This is our oven where we bake some delicious baked goods. And this part over there, right next to it, is where we wash our hands right after we get started with what we're going to bake today.

ELIZABETH REDFORD: Kemani came through our program in 2018. He is somebody who loves all things food and beverage.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: Then I add some sugar into a big bowl.

ELIZABETH REDFORD: He very quickly became our top salesperson.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: And then I like to measure it on the scale, just to be precise.

ELIZABETH REDFORD: I think that so often, people have never really thought about the disability community, what happens to young adults when they graduate from high school.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: Oh, we just did a test bake on the churro cookies.

ELIZABETH REDFORD: We know that there's a great cliff. We know that there are staggering unemployment rates. Unfortunately, there is a 70% unemployment rate for young adults with developmental disabilities here in the State of Virginia, and that rate is actually at 80% nationally. So, the work that we are doing is really trying to directly combat that. We're really tackling this as being able to bridge both the school setting, as well as the business setting together and provide that hands-on job training along with very intentional educational offerings.

But what we don't always talk about are the benefits of hiring from this community, that it is not charity, that these individuals stay in jobs longer. There's less turnover rate, there's less absenteeism, and there's so much joy and enthusiasm that they inject into the culture of a business. We are better for having Kemani be a part of our team.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: I'll do the one with the cinnamon sugar, while you try the one without it, and we'll see which one we like best.

ELIZABETH REDFORD: And part of his role with us as a graduate that we've hired, is that he now gets to help us train incoming groups of students.

KEMANI TURTON-JONES: This is our Hall of Fame. This is Haley. This is Chris. This is Cheyenne. This is Elizabeth. This is Shelly. And that's me right down there, so I've been baking here. It certainly means a lot since I've been working here for like five years. It's like a gift, you know, working. I think it says to me like, I'm a rock star and I'm always proud of what I do in the future.

Check out VPM News' coverage of Tablespoons Bakery.


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