Neither Audrey Reed, 27, nor Ruby Parker, 55, had ever made cookies before going to work for Charley’s Cookies, a vocational program of Ariel Clinical Services, an agency that serves both children in need of foster care or adoption, and adults with developmental disabilities.
She hadn’t baked cookies “from scratch anyway, just the Pillsbury kind,” Reed clarified.
Parker, who was clearly proud of her skills, reiterated the steps of cookie-making, and added: “I like this job making cookies. We get paid in two more weeks.”
The trainees are paid from cookie sale proceeds.
Adults and children with special challenges learn job skills through any of Ariel’s three programs: The operation of Whaz Up Dawg — a mobile gourmet hot dog cart; A yard crew that offers mowing, weeding, spreading gravel and help moving furniture; and, Charley’s Cookies where clients learn how to use an electric mixer, work around a hot oven and provide customer service to cookie buyers.
“It’s satisfying seeing them get solid life skills,” Ariel vocational specialist Jenni Case said. “The coolest thing I see is the interaction with the community, and seeing the community respond in an open, welcoming and kind way.”
At the Business Incubator Center commercial kitchen, Case supervised earlier this week four Ariel clients, including Parker and Reed, as they happily mixed cookie dough and scooped it onto baking pans. Later, after the cookies had cooled, they packed them in clear plastic bags tied with colorful ribbons in preparation for delivery to various businesses.
The cookies are also sold at booths set up at various businesses, including today (Sept. 13) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at City Market, 630 24 Road.
“It’s a chance for people we serve to feel good about themselves, learn skills, and contribute to the community,” Ariel Clinical Services Executive Director Rebecca Hobart said. “The adults are joyful to be able to work.”
Many of Ariel’s clients — some of whom were abused or neglected as children — feel very disconnected, powerless and afraid, Hobart said.
Ariel Clinical Services, 2938 North Ave., was founded 20 years ago by the late Kregg Thornburg, a special education teacher who noted that many children who had been removed from their homes were being sent to the Front Range, due to lack of services locally.
“We provided a safe environment, case management and mentors” for those children whose parents could not care for them for various reasons, Hobart said. “We found our niche, taking challenging kids with (various) disabilities — kids with significant challenges to overcome.
“We found many kids growing up with nowhere to go, so a lot of our adult clients were kids we served — now living in adult group homes. Many wanted jobs but didn’t have opportunities to learn skills.”
Hobart’s husband Charley McCormick is a “cookie connoisseur” known for his gifts of gourmet cookies at Christmas time. It was his idea, said Hobart, to develop a program where clients could learn the cookie business and acquire basic job skills. He donated his family recipes.
“They’re amazing cookies with only the best of ingredients,” Case said.
“He trained me and I train the clients,” who learn to read recipes, measure ingredients, and wash their hands frequently while preparing food, Case said.
A dozen clients participate in the Charley’s Cookies program, although only four at a time bake with Case, or her co-worker Melanie Ruf.
“They’re great cookies, made with a lot of love and care,” Hobart said. “And they support a special population with challenges.”
People wishing to place a cookie order may call Ariel Clinical Services at 970-245-1616.
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