Sometimes we feel we’re swimming against the current. All alone.
When we finally stop to take a breath, we realize there are many around us facing similar fears, challenges, or difficulties. We have company. Sometimes, lots of company.
Often neuro-diverse individuals think their fears, challenges, or difficulties are unique to them because of their disabilities. But…
Challenges and difficulties are common to us all.
A couple of Saturdays ago we participated in a local event, Self-Care Saturday, at Record in Downtown Bentonville. The event gave our cadets the opportunity to interact with customers and to share their experiences with a larger audience.
From a pure financial viewpoint, the event didn’t pay back. However, the confidence and determination Cadet Andrea (pictured with the tray in her hands) gained was priceless.
Andrea was quite shy approaching patrons to ask them to try our delicious breads. I was observing her from afar, and I could see her hesitation. One part of her wanted to open up; the other was holding her back.
I asked her how she was doing. She didn’t say anything about her struggles. Very casually I asked her to go with me to check out our neighboring booth, Kendra Scott (Jewelry).
I shared with the local store manager, Caitlin, our mission and how community events like Self-Care Saturday were a great venue for cadets to practice their customer service skills. Andrea mentioned how awkward she felt approaching people.
The AHA Moment
It was special listening to Caitlin sharing about her first attempts selling to customers: feeling awkward and not knowing what to say.
With practice, however, she started gaining confidence. Until it became natural.
I could see Andrea’s eyes widening with the self-realization that she wasn’t alone. Understanding that feeling awkward wasn’t unique to her, or to those folks who also live with an intellectual disability, was a huge step for her.
No need to keep beating yourself up, when the boat is full of people dealing with similar fears and challenges. And sometimes that boat is overloaded!
Now with her courage-meter high, she grabbed the tray with the various samples and ventured to the floor...walking with her head up, confident she could do it.
And she did! I witnessed how she told others about our mission in her own words. Pride was shining through her eyes.
Later that day her mom told me how Andrea was so happy that she attended the event because she met other cadets just like her.
She left the event changed. And so did I.
When you buy bread from us or eat at one of our local partners, you’re helping us create more opportunities for our cadets. That’s why we say Bread with Benefits!
The first annual Valentine's Challenge is in the books. Last week I explained that cadets would be using the Valentine's holiday as an occasion to plan, create, and even name their own loaves of bread.
Well, let me tell you, the cadets rose to the occasion! Every one of them.
Whoever thought I could find so many words beginning with "ex" to describe how the cadets performed? Normally we think of exes as a bad thing, but that's another blog post entirely.
And since one challenge deserves another: See just how many "ex" words you can spot below, and then, just for fun, comment with the number you found.
Expressing Their Inner Talents
Talent can be like a raw, unpolished gem: hidden deep inside by various circumstances and for various reasons. Sometimes it takes pushing the cadets a little past their comfort zones, to help them realize their true inner talents.
For some this experience can be exhilarating. For others it can be a little scary, especially at first, because they tend to doubt themselves. We just have to remind them that self-doubting can happen to anyone, extroverts and introverts, neurotypical as well as to those on the spectrum.
My role at Rockin' Baker is to facilitate the right place and time for cadets to explore the talents they naturally have, and to encourage them to exercise their courage muscle.
Overall, every cadet executed the Valentine's challenge beautifully. They exhibited a higher level of confidence and, for sure, expressed their creativity in delicious, sometimes exotic ways.
I'm so proud of each and every cadet. So. very. proud.
And the winner is . . .
Joaquin (pictured below) won 1st place with his Strawberry Dream loaf, Leah 2nd with her Love Potion #9, and Camryn 3rd with her Sharp Dressed Man.
The Valentine’s Challenge illustrates yet again: When people are pushed just a little outside their comfort zones, they can truly expand their horizons.
Thanks to all of you who came to pick your favorite loaf, or in some cases, more than one! I hope all of you enjoyed this challenge.
By the way...
I invite you to suggest topics for future blog posts. There's so much I could write about, but I'd love to know what truly interests you.
Your feedback is always appreciated.
Do you cringe when you hear the word challenge?
It seems to me that very often the simple word challenge can take our minds to that negative side. We tend to think of being questioned, feeling threatened, you know, being challenged.
But a challenge can also take us in a very positive direction. And a delicious one!
As you'll see, I recently used Valentine's as an opportunity to challenge the cadets with a fun, creative undertaking. And they really made the most of it!
Always Up for a Good Challenge
My friends know how much I love to challenge our Foodie group with crazy themes. Why? Because the outcomes can be quite surprising. I just need an excuse to come up with a theme, a new challenge.
For some reason we, the ladies of our Foodie group, tend to do most of the cooking, while the men (their bellies, more specifically) get benefit from all our work.
Well, I decided to change that at least once per year. I throw an Annual Manly Grilling challenge to the boys with 10 silly, funny rules such as:
Reception was mixed at the beginning. Expectations were so low.
One of my friends told me to basically forget about her husband actively participating because he could only flip burger patties. Barely!
But not only did he make a delicious lemon pie, he also whipped that fresh cream in a breeze in front of our amused eyes. Of course, with those Popeye’s arms it was more like a tornado than a breeze. Me? I need to borrow the muscles of my Kitchen-Aid!
My spouse made a horseradish sauce and a vanilla gelato...from scratch. When I say from scratch, I mean it. He pulled the horseradish root from our backyard, and even scraped vanilla beans for the gelato.
A few burns from scalding custard later, he ended up with a scrumptious vanilla gelato. I could see the pride shinning in his eyes when done.
Ok, I confess. I gave some tips along the way, but he did all the work. Remember that rule of the ladies not moving a finger that day???
So I got to wondering: How can I similarly challenge the cadets of Rockin' Baker Academy?
The Valentine's Challenge
When Ryan, my assistant baker, mentioned having some of the cadets come up with their own breads, my mind immediately thought of a challenge.
Yes, a Delicious Challenge for Valentine’s Day!
Cadets were challenged to not only create their own bread, but also to name their loaves.
Surprisingly, the cadets have enthusiastically embraced the challenge. It’s been empowering to see the cadets planning, thinking, and sharing their ideas.
Plus all the giggling makes it quite fun.
The ingredients. The names. Everything. It's all been amazing!
Jen’s Nut? Yep! We all laughed out loud when Jennifer told us the name for her loaf. A loaf with roasted banana, toasted walnuts, raisins, and a touch of cinnamon. I’m already thinking of a nice toasted slice for breakfast. Bring on the fromage blanc cheese baby!
Only Camryn could’ve thought of calling her loaf Sharp Dressed Man. You may wonder what salami, cheddar, green onion, caramelized onion and All Spice have to do with a sharp dressed man, except for maybe wearing All Spice cologne. When asked where that name came from, her reply was: “Because on Valentine’s Day, a man should dress sharp.”
That’s makes a lot of sense to me. Deliciously sensible by the way.
Since Love is in the air, Leah’s loaf is a Love Portion #9: raspberry, white chocolate chips, dark chocolate ganache, and secret spice. No wonder why she’s calling it Love Portion #9—nine words in her ingredient list. Clever!
Joaquin is fantasizing with his Strawberry Dream: a loaf with fresh strawberry compote, cream cheese, and honey. As much as he loves jalapeño, I just hope he’s not adding it when I’m not looking.
Daniel has turned out to be a cook, and since pizza is one of his favorite foods, he’s going with Pizzazz . . . Until the day to make their loaves arrives, Daniel continues delighting us with his breakfast dishes. Next, waffles. I’ll have my honey ready to drizzle!
Are You Up for a Fun Challenge?
I’m very pleased with how the challenge is turning out. It has been exciting, motivating, and fun.
If a challenge is presented right, and the support is there, I believe most people will deliver beyond expectations.
Since we’re still on the topic of challenges, I'd like to challenge you.
You’re challenged to pick your favorite loaf.
I know, I know! I’m making it very hard for you to choose a single one. Psst, between you and me, you can pick more than one.
Whoever sells out first will win a doughty medal and the rights to brag about being #1. And #2. And #3.
Just stop by on Valentine’s Day or Saturday 15 to pick up your favorite loaf!
Cadets will be also selling their loaves on Saturday 15 during the Self-Care Saturday at The Record from 10 am to 2 pm (104 NW A St., Bentonville). Here is a Facebook link if you want to find out more about this free event: https://www.facebook.com/events/470778270495404/
Which one will you pick?
Body wanting to rest, but keep going? Yes, that’s me.
I’ve been working at the bakery for too long without proper breaks, and my body was starting to scream: Let me rest a little!!!
This is a topic for another blog: taking care of yourself if you truly want to help others.
I finally got the courage to take a couple of days off. I was confident the cadets could pull it off, but at the same time I was a little nervous leaving them alone.
Who hasn’t been there?
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust the cadets. I just never want to undermine their confidence by putting them in situations they may not be ready to tackle. I only want to build their confidence!
Well, they did it! Better, they ROCKED it! No burnt loaves, no damaged buns.
Can you believe Joaquin (pictured), who’s not even 21 years old, led his team like nobody else? He had his moments of doubt, and made some mistakes. Yet, he was able to fix them and, most importantly, learned from them.
That’s what you want from an employee: to solve problems as they arise, without waiting for the manager to fix them.
I’m so proud of them.
It takes patience, but when you train well, provide the right tools, and give them space, they will certainly deliver. Trust is key.
I learned this lesson, thanks to them.
After this experience, I’ll leave them on their own more often. Forcing them to run the show by themselves will be instrumental in building the confidence they need to keep shining!
Sometimes they just need a little push.
Meanwhile, keep stopping by to get your loaves. You know how much they love to serve you. And please subscribe to the blog on the right (or below, on mobile).
Together, we're Baking a Difference!
The Rockin' Baker
Hi, I'm Daymara Baker, founder and CEO of Rockin' Baker. Venezuela native. European-style baker. Proud American and Northwest Arkansan.