When life hands you lemons, some choose to make lemonade, while others learn to bake. Jennifer Laurent and Cathy Smith, with Randy Sams Outreach Shelter, have enabled those who are struggling to develop life skills and job training in order to support themselves.
In February 2015, Cathy Smith, accountant by day and baking director by night, began teaching baking classes as a part of the Randy Sam’s job training program. They began as a form of life skill classes but eventually evolved into what is now known as Be the Blessing Bakery.
In only a matter of a year, Cathy Smith and Jennifer Laurent have facilitated the organic growth of Be the Blessing, only relying on small, individual donations for support. As of today, they are breaking even but hope to continue to grow and expand the services they provide.
Jennifer Laurent has been with Randy Sam’s for seven years, while Cathy Smith has owned a catering company prior to teaching classes at the Outreach Shelter in 2015. These two ladies manage to generate around $30,000 a year in revenues. All proceeds from Be the Blessing return to the community through the emergency shelter program.
Currently, there are 4 trainees each training period, lasting 16 weeks from start to finish. While training, all state health codes and regulations are learned and followed. Trainees receive a stipend for their work and when they graduate they have developed a portfolio, resume, and leave with a letter of recommendation from Smith. The ladies hope to build a partnership with local bakeries to establish what their needs are so the training can better equip those involved to enter the workforce. “These skills allow them to work anywhere they want, a restaurant or even country club.”
“We go from sifting flour and sugar, what the purpose of eggs are, and so on. The very first thing they make is buttercream icing. They then go on to cakes and bread pudding. The training is broad and they end up developing commercial kitchen skills”, according to Smith.
The goal at Randy Sam’s Outreach Shelter is to return these people to the community where they can remain stable on their own. They hope to expand into other industries, but there is still much to develop and work out before expansion is possible. “Most importantly, we want to make sure every program is solid and aligns with our mission,” explained Laurent.
“We don’t do a lot of advertising, The Facebook page and social media have taken us a long way. There are a lot of nonprofits that help support us too. It is a way for people to support the shelter in a way that they can feel comfortable.”
Funding has mainly been a compilation of smaller donors. We launched a capital campaign last year and have been working towards moving all of Randy Sams and Be the Blessing under one roof. The ribbon cutting for their new location is set for early July.”
Smith explained, “I think that most people are unaware that this is a job training program and not meant to be a for profit business. This is an opportunity to teach people and get them back in the workforce . For 21 years now the community has been a part of Randy sams. We are excited to find new ways to contribute through volunteerism and be good stewards of the people who have entrusted money with us .”
“There’s hardly a day that goes by when we don’t have something from the community. Some choose to bring eggs or sugar. Somene once brought a whole truck full of sugar, or farmers will bring us eggs. We have never had to buy eggs, explained Smith.
One exemplary model of this program’s efficacy is Roger Kennedy. He began as a bakery trainee and has since moved into his own place, purchased a vehicle, and is now assisting as a manager in the bakery and helps train other bakers. “ It really boosted me up , he said.”
Kennedy was in the shelter for one year, eleven months, and four days.
“I think Roger is probably the shining example of who it is working for . We had an opportunity to send him to an international baking conference . He was able to travel to Vegas and we were excited to be able to offer that. He is the goal for all of our trainees,” continued Smith.
Patrick Jackson, a current trainee, said, “I love to cook and the fact that this is a non-profit organization makes it a good opportunity to help people.”
Randy Sam’s Outreach Center and Be the Blessing do so much more than the community realizes. In 2017 alone, 53 moved out of the shelter and into permanent housing. On average, 90 people stay at the shelter each day.
“Doorways program gives us some financial assistance. Those who receive financing must be actively homeless. The program works with the Friendship Center and Housing and Urban Development funding. This funding helps recipients get deposits and rent paid, as well as sustaining the life skill classes the organization offers. Counseling and advocacy are also available, they assist with budgeting, job seeking, case management, and clothing and food.
“We try to build a support system where they can handle challenges on their own and be the safety net no one needs, said Smith.” Be the Blessing is doing so much more than instilling confidence and life skills to those involved in their programs. These baking classes become a form of art to the trainees. “Autography your work with excellence”, Smith always tells them. “We aim for excellence because people eat with their eyes.”
For more information regarding Randy Sam’s Outreach Shelter or Be the Blessing Bakery, contact: 903-792-7024