This Bakery's Sweet Mission is to Mentor Underserved Youth

Sweet Generation is a social enterprise bakery with a mission.

Feb 9, 2020

The cupcake craze took New York City by storm and many bakeries joined in by offering this delicious treat. The Village Voice taste tested cupcakes throughout the city and voted Sweet Generation's creations the "Best Cupcake in NYC". 

The bakery that is located in the city's East Village uses natural whole ingredients, plus everything is hand-made and not mass produced by pastry chefs with help from young people in the community that are developing professional and technical skills as part of the social enterprises mission.

Sweet Generation has a retail bake shop, a wholesale operation, as well as its social mission program called RISE – Reach, Inspire, Shape and Elevate – that trains and employs young people from underserved communities. RISE partners with nonprofits and schools to provide internships and job opportunities for youth, ages 16 to 24, that are paid or earn school credits according to company. Partners are selected based on their missions, structure, and support systems.

Sweet Generation's owner and founder Amy Chasan formerly worked in youth development and education. She combined her passion for teaching with a love of baking when she created RISE.

"We serve people from marginalized communities, specifically from low-income communities and young people of color," Chasan told TODAY. "We train them on the job in the bakery, both in the kitchen and on the counter, and we also run workshops focused on professional development and entrepreneurial thinking."

But it is more than just all work according to the company. To create a supportive strong community, the bakery has a sunshine committee that creates activities to celebrate the staff including, catered family meals, holiday themed parties, employee gifts, paid time off, employee discounts and financial bonuses.

Since the social enterprise bakery opened in 2012, more than 130 youth have been given a chance to get what Chasen calls, "a leg up." The program is offered in four eight-week sessions that trains seven to 15 young people at a time.

Some find jobs at Sweet Generation after graduation. Chasan told TODAY that around 75 percent of the current staff is made up of former interns. One is Deanna Bing, 18, now a freshman at Baruch college who began working in July 2019 after interning the previous spring.

"I basically do everything front of house, which entails making coffee and taking cake orders and dealing with our day-to-day customers," said Bing. "I communicate heavily with back of house to ensure production and make sure everything runs smoothly throughout the day."

She explained how RISE has helped her grow. "It's amazing. It's the first time I've ever felt needed at a job. Usually it's like your typical fast-food job. No one really needs you. They're just kind of hiring you to buffer you in. Here, your job, your role, your responsibilities are so needed that if you miss your task for the day, it messes with production entirely."

Chasan is proud that her program helps interns to thrive out of their comfort zones. "Our model and our goal is to employ as many of the young people that we serve," Chasan said. "And so, we really look for participants that demonstrate a commitment to learning and developing their skill set, those that demonstrate confidence and excitement about the position. And so we've been able to hire a number of both part-time and full-time former participants."

Another former intern, Yessenia Oporta, 23, now trains and mentors new interns. "Just a couple weeks ago, I was working with one girl in the front-of-house counter," she said. "After she had done her first transaction, she was so proud of herself. It was so cool to see because I feel like a lot of them lack that in their general day to day. So, I feel like this is really a place where they get that confidence and sense of pride that they wouldn't otherwise."

Helping young people from marginalized communities with little opportunities to become responsible educated and career minded adults is a sweet mission. There's no sugar coating how vital and valuable that is to the young people Sweet Generation serves.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.