There’s a new cook in Madison’s kitchen.
A local organization aims to help the struggling members of the Madison community through culinary teachings.
Founded in 2014, Just Bakery has established its roots as a rehabilitation and resource center for the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and homeless individuals.
Carmella Glenn, director of Just Bakery for nearly four years, said the three-month program trains people to “get back on their feet.”
“A lot of our clients addressed having difficulties getting employed,” Glenn said. “So, we said, maybe we should train and employ them ourselves.”
In coordination with Madison Area Urban Ministry, the idea of Just Bakery was brainstormed approximately 10 years ago when the founders noticed this issue.
The program is self-voluntary and free for the participants, Glenn said. This is because many people who are coming out of jail or are currently incarcerated lack the ability to afford a program like this.
Just Bakery partners with Dane County Jail so inmates are able to fulfill their work program requirements through time at the organization, Glenn said. They are able to learn valuable, practical skills.
“Maybe you don’t want to be a baker or get into the food business, but the advocacy and information you get from working with us is priceless,” Glenn said. “We’re an employment training program where you just so happen to learn baking.”
In addition to baking, the program teaches participants about business and nutrition, as well as socially relevant themes like where to find support groups, housing and childcare, Glenn said.
Just Bakery even has a class called Life Skills which targets substance abuse and anger management, an issue which Glenn said is very prevalent in the organization.
Alcohol and drug addictions are the biggest struggles within the program, especially with the opioid crisis, Glenn said.
“I’ve lost two students to overdoses,” Glenn said. “People who are in prison or coming out of prison are experiencing deep levels of trauma.”
Accountability increases when people join the program, Glenn said. If someone relapses they have to leave the class, but are more than welcome to come back to try again.
In fact, Glenn said some participants have come back multiple times, or even more, to pursue a different path.
“People know this is a safe space,” Glenn said. “We don’t look at them as failures.”
While approximately 52 percent of students graduate, around 80 percent are, by their terms, successful.
What this means, Glenn said, is that while not everyone technically graduates, most of the students are able to secure good jobs and gain control of their lives.
A graduate and current kitchen manager of Just Bakery, Kenneth Johnson, said his experience in the program “changed his life.”
“Carmella kept asking me to do the program, and I kept saying no,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t until I got into some trouble that I did it.”
While taking the program, Johnson was able to secure employment at institutions such as UW Hospital and Cranberry Creek, a restaurant in Madison.
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Within a few months of his graduation, Johnson was hired as Just Bakery’s kitchen manager where he handles day-to-day operations and food orders.
“[Just Bakery] has opened up so many doors for me,” Johnson said. “Everybody needs a fresh start every now and again.”
In the future, Just Bakery will expand their reach even further by partnering with Madison Area Technical College, Glenn said.
As of January, students at Just Bakery can transfer 12 credits to MATC where they will be applicable in classes still to be determined, Glenn said.
“People are generally blocked from opportunities because they had to check the box that says ‘I have a record,’” Glenn said. “Elements such as education and employment will give people a decent foundation to get ahead.”