Gaithersburg's Sunflower Bakery gives young adults opportunities

Raw chocolate chip cookie dough. (Photo: Ginny/Creative Commons)

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WJLA) - Sunflower Bakery isn't your typical bakery.

Inside this kitchen is a school for teens and young adults with cognitive disabilities.

Monday through Friday, students arrive at 7:30 in the morning. At the bakery, they learn how to follow a recipe, measure ingredients and scoop cookie dough.

Wilhsia Kimmakon is in the part-time basic baking and life-skills program, which is part of Montgomery County Public Schools' "transition training" program. Through a lot of repitition, she is gaining employable skills - skills that will allow her to work in any bakery when she graduates from high school in June.

"There isn't another bakery training program like this in the state of Maryland," said bakery co-director Sara Milner.

Milner, a former social worker, and friend Laurie Wexler started Sunflower Bakery five years ago, after noticing a void for students like Wilhsia upon graduating from high school.

"There's very little that involves specific skill training, and baking is a skill training," Milner explained. "It's very structured, so people with disabilities can learn to do something over and over and over."

Justin Fisher is one of Sunflower's success stories. Following 10 weeks of instruction, Sunflower placed him in an internship, where he's adding to his bakery training.

Justin's boss said he is impressed with Sunflower's program. He currently has three interns - and just gave Justin a job.

"I'd like to open a restaurant or bakery. I'd give it to them - say, 'you guys run it,'" said Gopi Swami, executive chef of Hot Breads Bakery and Cafe.

And that's the message Sunflower Bakery is hoping to send.

"They have so much more to offer than someone who just walked in off the streets," said Swami. "Our people are really well-trained - they're ready to go in there and do the work."

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