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Restorative program kneads change through baking

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Virginia Anderson is a student in the House of Bread program.

House of Bread offers skills training to women in the Roanoke area who were previously incarcerated, under-resourced.

The women at House of Bread are rising together.

In 2017, the nonprofit started breaking down barriers to employment and stability for formerly incarcerated women in Roanoke. Since then, it’s expanded to include under-resourced women in the area as well.

Lisa Goad, House of Bread program coordinator and co-founder, said women from all backgrounds can benefit from what the organization has to offer.

During the six-week program, women learn job and personal skills through baking while receiving emotional and spiritual support from mentors. They also reintegrate into the community by selling bread they’ve made alongside volunteers at pop-up events.

“When women come out of incarceration, we expect them to jump back into the community, get a job, find a place to live and just be a part of the community. But we make that really hard because there's all these barriers,” Goad explained. “So, taking down those barriers really helps us, it helps the women to be able to integrate better into the community.”

On baking days, the program operates out of the LEAP Kitchen — a shared commercial kitchen and food-business incubator near downtown Roanoke — run by nonprofit Local Environmental Agriculture Project. Heart-shaped cinnamon rolls, cheesy bread, chocolate chip cookies and other confections have been on the menu.

The act of baking can build community, and women in the class connect with volunteers and mentors who they might not have met otherwise.

Susan Kessler has been volunteering with the organization since its inception.

Kessler’s a passionate baker, who said the students impress her every time they come to the kitchen — though most have little to no baking experience.

“I've learned from these ladies. Some of them come with a lot of experience and some do not. So, it's just kind of fun to sit back and see how much they want to know, and what they want to do,” Kessler said. “I think the gratification of working really hard to make something together and then when you see [the bread] come out of the oven, [there’s] excitement on their faces, they can't believe [they] made that.”

Virginia Anderson is one of those women.

“I had been addicted to drugs for many years, and I finally went to treatment. I have 141 days clean,” Anderson said. “Because of the drug use, I had been in jail before, which made me eligible for this program.”

Anderson said when she comes to House of Bread, she leaves the world’s stressors at the door.

“It helps me to be present in the moment. It gives me a sense of purpose and satisfaction,” Anderson said about working in the kitchen. “I'm good about paying attention to detail. And it’s just very helpful to give me that time, just to my own thoughts.”

As part of the program, women also take classes to obtain a food-handling ServSafe certification, a qualification useful in the restaurant industry.

“It's been good because they've helped us build a resume and work on interviewing skills,” Anderson said. “It's also just been really therapeutic to get to work with the bread and just start with raw ingredients, and then end up with the final product.”

Even with those skills, settling back into life after serving jail or prison time can be difficult.

“I think when a woman comes out of incarceration, she has made a mistake. And she has served the sentence,” said Goad, the program co-founder. “When she gets out, that's not the end of the sentence, because there are stereotypes, barriers and labels. And you cannot be restored to the community, if the community sees you as a felon or as a junkie. You need that community to see you as a human being.”

Additional information, as well as an application for the program, is available on the House of Bread website.

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