Baking Their Way to Job Skills A nonprofit bakery pairs speech-language pathology students with survivors of acquired brain injury to pilot a functional return-to-work program. Academic Edge
Academic Edge  |   February 01, 2018
Baking Their Way to Job Skills
Author Notes
  • Joanna Close, MS, CCC-SLP, is an adjunct clinical supervisor at Pacific University and an on-call clinician at Legacy Health’s Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon.
    Joanna Close, MS, CCC-SLP, is an adjunct clinical supervisor at Pacific University and an on-call clinician at Legacy Health’s Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / Academic Edge
Academic Edge   |   February 01, 2018
Baking Their Way to Job Skills
The ASHA Leader, February 2018, Vol. 23, 40-42. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.23022018.40
The ASHA Leader, February 2018, Vol. 23, 40-42. doi:10.1044/leader.AE.23022018.40
“Come visit Sarah Bellum’s Bakery & Workshop! Honor your cerebellum,” baker Had Walmer, 62, cheerfully broadcasts from the front of his booth on a sunny summer afternoon. “Live long and prosper! Joie de vivre is alive and well at Sarah Bellum’s Bakery!”
Walmer stops passersby to offer samples of red velvet, lemon-blueberry, chocolate-salted caramel, carrot cake and vegan/gluten-free coconut-lime cupcakes, captivating patrons with descriptions of the homemade desserts.
Walmer also shares his experience with acquired brain injury (ABI) from a 1977 car accident and the circuitous path that eventually led him to bake and sell cupcakes at a farmer’s market in Portland, Oregon. His optimism is infectious as he explains the unique program that is Sarah Bellum’s Bakery & Workshop, a nonprofit where he and three other ABI survivors are paired with Pacific University speech-language pathology graduate students to learn to bake and sell the delicious treats.
Back in Sarah Bellum’s commercial kitchen, the scene is different—the bakers and their student partners are more quiet and focused. Here is where bakers like Isaac Cornell, 40, get their turn to shine. Prior to his ABI, caused by complications related to alcoholism and subsequent congestive heart failure, Cornell had more than 10 years of culinary experience. This is his first work experience since his injury 10 years ago. “Sarah Bellum’s is getting me back into the fray,” he says. “And I’m not afraid to be flamboyant in my fabulous disabilities.”
Writing the recipe
The brainchild of Rik Lemoncello, associate professor of speech-language pathology at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, Sarah Bellum’s Bakery & Workshop combines two of his greatest passions—baking and serving adults with brain injury. The not-for-profit bakery is a social enterprise with a twofold mission:
  • Help adults with ABI develop job-ready skills in a functional setting by baking at a commercial kitchen and selling at the weekly farmer’s market.

  • Provide speech-language pathology graduate students with experience developing personal relationships and clinical skills to support individuals with brain injury.

“Sarah Bellum’s is getting me back into the fray. And I’m not afraid to be flamboyant in my fabulous disabilities.”

The ingredients of inspiration were first mixed a decade ago, following Lemoncello’s participation in Stroke Camp Northwest. This summer camp and support network for families living with aphasia was founded in part by Lynn Fox, Portland State University professor emerita.
“It was awesome!” Lemoncello recalled. His next thought was, “How could I re-create this for the brain injury community? I don’t hike or fish or camp … but I do bake!” He was enthusiastic about the idea of providing more participation-focused—rather that impairment-focused—support for clients with ABI, but had concerns about the time, money and effort required to start a business. And so his idea of running a bakery staffed by people with brain injury sat on the back burner, so to speak.
Fast-forward to 2015, when Lemoncello was named Pacific University’s College of Education “Tommy Thompson Distinguished Professor in Education.” The award includes three years’ funding to support a scholarly project.
With a green light from the college dean, Sarah Bellum’s Bakery & Workshop was officially launched. The bakery is funded in part through Pacific University, but is managed under the umbrella of Brain Injury Connections Northwest, a nonprofit that offers support groups, social outings and activities, referral, resources, and compassion for those touched by brain injury in the Portland area.
The role of the grad students is to coach and support the bakers—they model the baking process, reducing cueing as the bakers learn to implement strategies and demonstrate learning independently. They collaboratively set goals for the bakers, which might include using compensatory attention strategies—such as self-talk and double-checking when following a recipe—or reducing vocal volume when selling at the market.
The students received training on ABI before beginning their coaching roles, and receive clinical placement hours for their participation.

“What’s so important and meaningful for me is that I now have the identity of a baker—I am called a baker.”

Rave reviews
After the first phase—a year focused on business development—Sarah Bellum’s began a pilot program of baking and selling cupcakes during the summer of 2017. Four bakers and four graduate students worked out of a shared commercial kitchen once each week and sold at the farmer’s market once weekly. This phase-two pilot was a success—with sales rising during six weeks at the Oregon Health Sciences and University (OHSU) farmer’s market, the business was already operating in the black. “We baked beautiful, delicious cupcakes that we sold at the market, and people loved us,” Lemoncello said. “We were so proud and overwhelmed. I said, ‘OK, we can do this!’”
Customers were not the only ones who were happy. The bakers, graduate students and farmer’s market also appreciated the experience and the product.
OHSU farmer’s market manager, Eecole Copen, raved about what a great fit Sarah Bellum’s was for the market. “They’re also a joy to have around,” she said. “They are lively and fun and friendly. And they’re improving the health and lives of individuals who have had a brain injury.”
Bryan O’Dowd, one of the graduate student partners, reported a positive experience building rapport and coaching one of the bakers. “I learned a lot about communicating with people with brain injury … the range of presentation, the need to be concise.”
One of the bakers, Brandon Scarth, recently spoke at the Oregon Speech-Language & Hearing Association conference about his experience with Sarah Bellum’s. “What’s so important and meaningful for me is that I now have the identity of a baker—I am called a baker,” he said. “And I am learning to become a baker.”
Rising expectations
Last summer’s pilot was the initial part of the “proof of concept” phase. Three of the four initial bakers will stay with the project during the winter as they aim to increase opportunities for production and sales. They plan to return to weekly baking sessions in a private-school kitchen, while working on establishing contracts with additional farmer’s markets, coffeehouses, and other businesses, including pitching the product to a privately owned natural grocery chain in the Pacific Northwest. The number of bakers (there’s a waiting list for participation) and graduate students involved in the project will depend on those contracts.
The ultimate goal is taking the project to scale—operating a full-time brick-and-mortar bakery, staffed with paid bakers/sellers with ABI, and with sufficient revenue to support a staff manager with background in ABI. Speech-language pathology students will continue to stay involved, with plans to add occupational therapy and neuropsychology students as well. Plans are contingent on securing funding after the initial three-year award ends.
Lemoncello remains dedicated to providing the services and support for his graduate students and the ABI community. “My clients are actually getting qualitative benefits from this program, and that’s what keeps me moving forward.”
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February 2018
Volume 23, Issue 2