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Confidence Cookies 

Next Move Program hires former students to work in new commercial kitchen.

click to enlarge Tablespoon bakers Cheyenne Jones and Christopher Brennan.

Photo courtesy Next Move

Tablespoon bakers Cheyenne Jones and Christopher Brennan.

“There’s a 70% unemployment rate – well, it’s closer to 80% – for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” says Next Move Program executive director Elizabeth Redford. 

As Americans grappled with historic job losses at the beginning of the pandemic, folks operating without traditional degrees and training could have ostensibly fallen through the gaping cracks of the workforce. But Redford and the Next Move Program – fueled by the big hearts and hard work of a small few – have “been lucky” she says. 

Next Move became a nonprofit in 2015 with a mission of educating, training and empowering young adults with disabilities, offering them opportunities for guided internship programs both internally and through partnerships with area businesses. 

Style chatted with Redford last fall about the exciting news that the nonprofit, after four years of pop-ups and itinerant existence, had secured its first brick-and-mortar space at Westover Hills United Methodist Church. 

While the space – a former minister’s house – is not quite ready due to permit delays and, well, a global pandemic, Redford says it has been busier than ever. 

This summer the nonprofit took to the road in its 1970s Cookie Camper, popping up the second and fourth Friday of every month at Westover Hills with freshly baked cookies. It also launched a “very successful” monthly subscription cookie club, which starts at $19.95. The bakers will soon play to fall trends, Redford notes, so sign up now if you’re intrigued by flavors like pumpkin spice latte and campfire s’mores. 

“We’re doing more wholesale, too,” Redford says “You can find us at Laura Lee’s and Perk and we’ve been busy with special orders and community orders. The YMCA of Greater Richmond just put in an order for 1,000 cookies for a virtual event they’re hosting.”

Once thee new house is ready, Redford says that no matter the state of the world, she’s confident it will be able to operate safely. There’s ample outdoor space, a courtyard and a screened-in porch, she says. 

When it’s safe to do so, it’ll use the upstairs bedrooms for classrooms and offices and downstairs will be open for retail. Redford also plans to offer programming for those in the community interested in helping to employ or train those with disabilities. 

Until then, it has had to push pause on in-person internships. Redford says it has switched gears, creating virtual content for Next Move and Tablespoons, like ServSafe and entrepreneurship resources. “We may end up offering multiple sessions this fall, we’re trying to figure out how best to support Richmond Public Schools,” Redford says. 

The true jewel of Next Move’s new property is, undoubtedly, the church’s commercial kitchen, where at least four Next Move alumni will soon be serving as the program’s official bakers. The successful cookie-baking branch of the nonprofit is a result of Next Move’s internal internship, Tablespoons Bakery, founded in 2017.  

click to enlarge Next Move’s executive director, Elizabeth Redford. - DON MEARS
  • Don Mears
  • Next Move’s executive director, Elizabeth Redford.

“We wanted to offer more life-skills programming and a professional baker friend invited us into her kitchen for a few ‘baking nights,’” Redford says. 

A lawyer by trade, self-trained professional baker friend Britt Berlauk says she connected with Next Move via Instagram a few years ago.

“I kept liking a bunch of their photos,” she says, laughing. “They saw I was a baker and reached out to me and we collaborated on ways that we could get Next Move students in the kitchen, as both an avenue for training and another source of income to support the program.”

Berlauk brought students to the commercial kitchen she was using and started teaching them about the ins and outs of professional baking — recipe development, fractions and measurements and basic safety training. Since the pandemic Berlauk says she’s had more of a consulting role, though she hopes to become more hands-on when she’s able. 

For now, she and her two young children have been doing some serious R&D in her home kitchen. “You know that video, it went sort of viral, with the grandmother and the young kid grabbing the sugar and the butter out of the bowl? Yeah that’s my oldest child so that’s currently what recipe development looks like right now.”

Last fall, Redford noted that one of the goals of securing the space was to “ultimately employ interns or make referrals out to other restaurants for opportunities.”

A year later that hope has been realized. Two Next Move alums – Cheyenne and Christopher – are currently employed as bakers, with two more starting in the kitchen next month.

“I always say, he walked in a boy and walked out a young man,” Elisabeth Brennan says. 

Brennan’s son Christopher first interned with Redford back in 2013 when he was a high-schooler, and the Brennans maintained a close connection with Next Move over the years. Christopher is now one of the two alums holding the title of baker.

Elisabeth says Christopher is currently working about 8 to 10 hours a week for Next Move. “It’s amazing how their smiles light up, there’s so much respect both ways,” Elisabeth says. “Just for them to be a part of something, a reason for being. He has so much confidence now.” 

Check out the next Cookie Camper pop-up Friday, Sept. 25, at Westover Hills from 10 a.m. to noon. thenextmoveprogram.org.

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