Baking part of recipe for diversion program for moms re-enter workforce
Sugar, flour and chocolate morsels came out of the pantry and multiple mixers were plugged into electrical outlets. Numerous cookies sheets were placed on the counter and ovens were preheated.
Just like that, the kitchen at ReMerge of Oklahoma County was transformed into a pop-up bakery of sorts on a recent Monday morning.
ReMerge participants were celebrating the one-month anniversary of Catalyst Cookies by baking up batches of Triple Chocolate, Salted Caramel Pecan and Snickerdoodle cookies. The aroma of Double Chocolate Mint and Gluten Free Monster cookies also filled the air, along with a few dozen Red Velvet — which were being baked for all the customers who missed getting a taste of Catalyst Cookies' Valentine's Day specialty cookies during recent inclement weather.
Jenna Morey, ReMerge's executive director, said Catalyst Cookies is a social enterprise program to help ReMerge moms gain job skills destined to help them as they enter the job market after graduating from ReMerge.
ReMerge is a diversion program for women facing nonviolent felony charges and who are pregnant or have minor children. Morey said many of them have gaps in their work history or they never learned basic skills to help them gain and retain stable employment.
"A lot of our moms come to ReMerge with little to no work experience and this truly is meant to be the catalyst to their careers," she said.
Morey said the idea for the bakery enterprise was cooked up in 2019 and entered into the United Way of Central Oklahoma's Wayfinder Innovation Grant competition. After the cookie concept received the grant from the United Way, ReMerge's baking efforts also got a boost of additional funding from Boeing. Morey said Boeing has been a generous supporter.
"We're just helping our moms gain those skills in a really safe place so when they go out and they're ready to go out in the workplace, they are prepared to do that," she said.
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She said in this way, ReMerge is doing exactly what Catalyst Cookies' tagline suggests: "Providing a path to meaningful employment ... one cookie at a time."
Robyn Hilger, ReMerge's director of community engagement, said the agency is "doubling down" on its employment readiness programs. She said having a stable job is one of the key factors in reducing recidivism.
"If you don't have a job that you can live on or you have any sort of catastrophe that any of us have, you're right back in that chaos. You're unable to pay your rent, you're unable to buy gas, you're unable to pay your child's day care and all of those things are compounded," she said.
Morey and Hilger said Catalyst Cookies gives the community an opportunity to invest in the job skill development of the ReMerge moms. They said the cookies are more than just sweet treats because they are way to help the mothers in the program find future success.
'Every cookie is accounted for'
Catalyst Cookies offers six cookie flavors and a special cookie flavor will be added for holidays and special themes. The ReMerge moms bake the cookies on Mondays and customers pick the treats up between 3 and 5:30 p.m. at ReMerge, 823 N Villa.
Alisha Holland, 25, said she's having a blast learning new skills through the Catalyst Cookies program.
Holland said she has two daughters, ages 1 and 8, and she's hoping the skills she gleans through the social enterprise bakery will help her support her family after she graduates from ReMerge.
"I think us ladies being able to have all the skills, being able to do it hands on, benefits us greatly and sets us up for the future," she said.
"I had a passion for baking when I was little, but to be able to actually get in there with all this nice equipment, it really opened my eyes to a bigger view. I was really excited about getting here and grasping all the information I can."
Holland said she and other ReMerge participants take great pride in their baking accomplishments.
"We're making sure that every cookie is accounted for and that our customers are satisfied."
Tiffany Magness, Catalyst Cookies' bakery coordinator, said being involved with the ReMerge social enterprise helped combine two of her great passions. She is a social worker and she also formerly owned and operated her own cupcake shop, Green Goodies at Classen Curve in Oklahoma City, which she sold. In 2013, Magness won first place on an episode of Food Network's highly popular "Cupcake Wars" series.
"They've really surprised me in how quickly they learned and how they soak up the empowerment of the job training," she said.
"Look at them. They are like a well-oiled machine. A lot of them, I would hire."
To order Catalyst Cookies or for more information about the ReMerge social enterprise, go to www.catalystcookies.org. Follow Catalyst Cookies on social media on the catalyscookiesokc Facebook page and on Instagram @catalystcookiesokc.