In a world where reality television shows portray 20-somethings with as much depth as a flip-flop and compassion that rarely goes beyond a mirror someone like Steve Kelly is a refreshing beam of hope.
The 24-year-old’s potpie business turned cookie business turned non-profit baking classroom is something worthy of envy, replication and support nationwide.
Fresh out of college along with two others, Kelly founded The Educated Baker, a company with a social mission to help teach at-risk youth about business through baking. Originally the company intended to sell cookies and scones through retail and grocer outlets such as Hy-Vee, then use that money to support the mentoring program. But when the trio was spending more time baking than teaching they decided to make a change. Two of the original members moved onto other projects and Kelly turned the business into a full-fledged non-profit with a teaching mission.
“I love everything about baking and cooking. I knew one day I wanted to have my own company. There are youth in the community that have the same passions, but not necessarily the same upbringings,” Kelly said. “If you don’t have parents who can be available to you, for whatever reason, you can get involved in potentially negative situations – drugs, alcohol or even watching four hours of TV every night. I just want to provide them the opportunity to do something better.”
Kelly partnered with Kate Linden, assistant director of Academic Initiatives at Creighton University, to create a college level course that pairs business and bakery education with student mentorship and camaraderie. The class accepts 30 students, 20 from Creighton and 10 high school seniors from the Avenue Scholars Foundation, to attend a four-hour class every Monday night.
Creighton students will earn college credit and Kelly hopes to have the paperwork in place for high school students to earn college credit for UNO, Creighton and Metropolitan Community College by the beginning of next semester.
Each class is divided into two hours of business education where teachers and students discuss how a food-based business can create social change and two hours of hands on baking.
Only four weeks into the class Kelly has already witnessed changes in the students.
“Think about what it was like to be in high school. All you want to do is stay quiet and fit in, whereas in college it’s the opposite. You want to stand out because you want those good jobs and internships, so the high school students are learning a lot just from being partnered with their college students. Already they are much more vocal. We have these amazing discussions,” Kelly said. “Kate and I can’t believe this is happening after only four classes; but then we have to tell ourselves, these are Creighton students and Avenue Scholars, we shouldn’t expect anything less.”
In Kelly’s original business plan selling baked goods funded the teaching/mentoring component. When the bakery was reconfigured from a manufacturing kitchen to a teaching kitchen that option wasn't available. Kelly had to develop a new way to support his efforts to support his community program; so, he and other baking experts will teach community baking classes for kids, young adults and adults. Classes for all three levels include beginners, intermediate and advanced baking classes, priced from $20 to $50. Of course, like any non-profit, The Educated Baker welcomes donations at anytime. Those interested can sign up for classes at The Educated Baker website.
Kelly said part of his passion for creating change came through experience. In high school he started a bakery out of his parent’s house. His mom was an accountant and managed the books. His father often stayed up late to help him finish orders. He didn’t realize how fortunate he was until he went to college and discovered many people weren’t given the same opportunities or support.
“All of the baking and the business skills can fall by the wayside,” Kelly said. “I really hope that we inspire people to be more. Don’t just be a gardener; if that’s your talent, own the gardening business.”
Kelly said part of inspiring change is realizing the reciprocal nature of relationships. Enhancing Omaha isn’t about identifying a problem and saying, 'I know how to fix it.'
“Sometimes it’s not about changing at all,” said Kelly. “Sometimes it’s just about how to live in love and community with one another."
Hardly something you would hear coming out of Snooki’s mouth.
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