In May of 2015 three brave women from Rogers Park traveled by train to Winnetka to take a chance on a brand-new job training program. They were welcomed into Winnetka Congregational Church by its caring staff and two visiting women wearing aprons. Over forty women followed, traveling from all over Chicagoland, to an oasis on the North Shore where they learned to bake. They began as cautious students – unsure of whether they could trust these new teachers, mentors, and volunteers, much less learn from them. They stepped out of their comfort zones each week to tackle new topics – they rolled pie dough, kneaded bread, frosted cakes, caramelized sugar, and scooped cookies. They hauled giant bags of flour and sugar and proved that baking is not for wimps. And learn they did. Now they are bakers, cake decorators, caterers, pastry chefs, clerks, bartenders, and cooks. They are role models for their children and their communities and have secured brighter futures for themselves and their families.
What started as a seed of an idea about how to bring women of different backgrounds, cultures and experiences together over baked goods to develop confidence, hone skills, and find jobs became greater than the sum of its parts. Our recipe for success has included two extraordinary paid staff members and over 50 volunteers from our community who have mentored, coached, and supported our students. We have provided hundreds of workshops involving professionals whose skills range from baking to banking. We have baked thousands of cookies, frosted hundreds of cakes, and scooped countless bags of our signature granola. And as we did this, we grew as an organization and as a family. Volunteers and students alike found that their shared passion for baked goods transcended their differences. Friendships were formed, selves were strengthened, and heavenly aromas were produced.
While our program has been transformative for the women who have come through our doors, those eager students have been harder and harder to find. A changing economy, low unemployment and a food industry willing to train on-the-job have all contributed to that challenge. In speaking with our friends in the industry and with other peer organizations, most more well-established than The Floured Apron, we hear they too are facing similar struggles.
In addition, my move to Seattle last year has not been easy for the organization. Though I look forward to each monthly trip – the warm hugs and supportive smiles – it has grown increasingly difficult to lead from afar. Our Board has jumped in to lighten the load and our extraordinary staff and dedicated volunteers have worked tirelessly to continue to fulfill our mission. However, at this stage in our fragile organization’s growth and given our current recruiting challenges, the hurdles are becoming too big to overcome.
It is with a very heavy heart that I share that our Board recently made the difficult decision to close down our program. I know this will come as a shock to most of you. Please know that countless hours of discussion and scenario planning went into the decision and it was not one the Board made lightly. We are tremendously grateful for the support of our sponsors, donors, volunteers and partners who have helped make these last four years possible. Mostly, we are thankful for the extraordinary women who participated in The Floured Apron and have touched our lives.
“Sometimes we meet a person along life’s way And walk together, if only for a little while… And it makes all the difference”