What circumstances brought you to where you were before you joined Together We Bake?
Kenzie: I relocated to Alexandria to be a resident in The Friends of Guest House program, at which point I was referred to Together We Bake by my case manager. I have a background in the culinary field in what I thought of as my distant past, another life really, before I had taken all the wrong turns to end up on the path of jails, institutions, and death of the spirit. My case manager didn’t know this, just knew the program was capable of instilling confidence and positivity in women who had lost their sense of self and felt I could benefit from the environment.
What inspired you to apply to Together We Bake?
Kenzie: After reviewing the website and reading through other personal stories of the experiences of alumni, I felt like I had read a piece of my self in every person. Over and over. I felt connected. I have felt so disconnected for so many years, to feel connected without ever having spoken to or met anyone in the organization amazed me. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of this. I could only hope they would see in me what I saw in them.
How has Together We Bake changed your perspective on life?
Kenzie: TWB has genuinely helped me with mindfulness in so many aspects. Not just in being present in the moment, but also in taking into consideration the perspective of the other party. We have spent time learning about how negotiations play a part in our daily lives in all types of relationships. We’ve learned about emotional intelligence, different anger styles of others and our own, and how to identify them. There’ve been so many different things that TWB has helped me to learn to identify and process. But to be able to do any of that, I have to be aware and mindful of them first and foremost.
Has someone at Together We Bake (a fellow participant, a volunteer, an instructor, etc) had a particular influence on you?
Kenzie: Every team member I’ve met at TWB has affected me in some way. Colida (Coach) you can tell really wants to help us all earn our ServSafe and will find any answer to any question if we don’t understand. Teresa makes you feel so comfortable in the kitchen that if you were to make a mistake, you could tell her and know that it could be corrected and not be a big deal. Lucy will show up ready to do yoga with you, and her bubbly personality is infectious. She isn’t afraid to share herself with you and be on your level. Tricia will pop up with questions about something you mentioned days ago, and really make you feel special and heard. Elizabeth, you can feel her passion about her apple chips and her food waste project when she talks about it – I think it’s amazing to have someone with that kind of standing in the community to be a part of this program. Stephanie texted me during my time quarantined while I was sick with COVID just to check up on me and how I was feeling. I was going through a really hard time mental health wise at that point, and her checking on me really helped me stay afloat through that. I have really appreciated Hanna and her willingness to stand around after program hours and talk with me. She has helped me process some toxicity in relationships in my life that I don’t exactly have that option of removing completely due to that being where my daughter lives. But Hanna never hesitates to uplift me. And I know she isn’t just saying words because I see the tears building in her eyes at the same time they’re building in mine. Liz I feel very connected to. She’s who interviewed me for my acceptance into the program. I’m not sure how long most interviews are, but mine lasted for quite a while, and I know it was emotional for me. But it was also cleansing. I love that this program hires alumni. I get to see women that truly have been EXACTLY where I’ve been, and have turned it around. Have their children. Have their license. Have a steady job. Have bought a car. Have bought a house. Things to me that sound unattainable. In the years I’ve been in and out of jails, and even prison, and especially in the last few months, I have met an abundance of “volunteers.” But TWB is the first environment I’ve encountered where the ONLY vibe I feel is encouragement.. is EMPOWERMENT.
How would you describe Together We Bake?
Kenzie: AMAZING. That’s the short answer. This program encompasses so much. The guest bakers are so versatile. The founders are so caring. The team members are so encouraging. They all really go the distance to make sure you feel comfortable and confident to move forward in my life.
What do you feel is the most valuable thing Together We Bake does?
Kenzie: TWB is so well-rounded. I don’t feel there’s any part of my life that wasn’t touched by this program. I was able to brush-up on my computer skills through the digital literacy class. Learn to better communicate with my newly teen-aged daughter through the negotiation and emotional intelligence classes. As well as focusing on self-care with the mindfulness and yoga class. Of course TWB also helped me to renew my ServSafe certificate, which allows me to be more easily employable, and with higher wages upon my graduation.
What is the most valuable thing you learned at Together We Bake?
Kenzie: I would say the most valuable thing I learned at TWB is between the mindfulness of being aware of the factors of the other party in the conversation, as I’ve already mentioned before. As well as to not undervalue your past experiences no matter how long ago they were, or where you’ve been in your life since. The road I’ve paved myself through life has had quite a few twists and turns in it. Just this past June 6, 2020 I was sure I’d hit a dead end, no U-turns allowed, only to find a hidden path back to the main drag in January 2021 when I was accepted to Friends of Guest House, and subsequently TWB. I was in culinary school 15 years ago when I found out I was pregnant. At that point I switched career paths for fear that the food service industry in the area I lived in wasn’t a strong career path. I would need a steady 9-5 job, as much as that wasn’t what my heart desired, to provide financially as well as allow me to be available for my daughter’s future school functions. I ended up being successful in the field of call center customer service, moving into quality assurance. In time, my path did diverge from the desk jobs as well. I found myself incarcerated. Which has brought me to my new path. In my time here at TWB, in recreating my resume and seeking the opportunity to find employment in the bakery setting again, I find myself discrediting my previous experience in bakeries and restaurants given the time that has passed. The women here have been so encouraging, reminding me that while I may need to brush up on those skills, that knowledge I learned on the job and in my previous school is still there. More importantly, that passion is still there and my muscle memory will prevail. I only need to have faith in myself.
Do you have any specific memories of experiences at Together We Bake?
Kenzie: Every day here has been very memorable. We have really become so close knit. But I really enjoyed the guest bakers. It was really great to be have the different experiences making the staple specialties behind each of the bakers. The variations they suggested we could create when we tried to recreate the recipes again at a later time also really broadened my ideas of what seemed to be such a basic item. It just takes a little creativity and risk.
What was the most challenging thing about the program? How did you overcome that challenge?
Kenzie: The most challenging thing about the program was being open to being helped. I’ve been standing on my own for so long that it’s hard for me to accept help from anyone, let alone admit that I am at a point where I could use assistance. Even now it’s difficult to say the words ‘need help.’ With the challenges I have faced and overcome in my past, I do believe that if necessary, I would be able to move forward in life and prevail by self-motivated perseverance. To a degree, that’s what has gotten me here. But thankfully, now that I’ve gotten here, I have a new family in TWB that will help to keep me motivated on the days when my self-motivation is lacking. The women here have gone above and beyond to make me feel comfortable and welcomed. They take interest in my family life, and my feelings. My past, but also my present. They believe in my goals. They have shared their selves with me. It’s the first place I’ve ever encountered that I’ve truly felt like every staff member or volunteer is here because they actually care, and not just because they are wanting to feel like their doing their good deed for the day/week/month/year. I love that this program also moves forward by employing previous alumni. It means so much to me to be able to see women that have genuinely been where I have been. Gaining my life back is tangible again, and these women allow me to reach out and touch what I stand to gain if I keep striving for them.
What is something you are proud of that you achieved because of your participation in Together We Bake?
Kenzie: I gained confidence to begin applying to bakeries again. I had been working in the food industry 15 years ago, before I had my daughter, but switched my career path to customer service to have more stable office hours for when she went to school. When I arrived in this program I had a habit of negating my previous experience in bakeries since it had been over a decade. But the women here were adamant that when a passion dwells in your heart so deeply, that isn’t a skill so easily forgotten. I may need some time to brush up, but it will all come back to me. I’m grateful for how much these women have done to build me up. Outwardly I portray someone with fierce confidence that could never be broken down. But that’s out of necessity. But with these women in my life I have a chance at making that become my reality.
What advice do you have for women considering applying to Together We Bake?
Kenzie: You want this. If you’ve stumbled upon this, been referred. However you’ve come by this program. It was meant to be. Apply. It was meant for you. This is the kind of program that doesn’t just fall in your lap. It was placed in your path by divine intervention. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. With these women by your side, there is nothing out of reach or unattainable. This is the biggest blessing to come my way, but it still took my willingness to put in the application.