There are two things that Aimee Altizer knows well: baking and helping people. Which is why the idea of Flourish Bakery was a natural fit from the start.
A classically trained pastry chef, her long career in the culinary industry took an abrupt turn when she became an episcopal priest, later working in recovery centers. While recovery work was rewarding, there was something missing.
When people come out of jail or substance abuse, full recovery doesn’t really happen until the person is integrated into a community where they can offer part of themselves in return. That’s when an idea hit her.
Altizer researched and visited different organizations across the country with similar models and came up with the concept of Flourish Bakery, now a nonprofit located in Salt Lake City. It offers a 15-month comprehensive internship program, where participants learn accountability, self-love, and baking.
“I absolutely love what I do,” Altizer says. “When we are all together, we are more alike than we are different. That’s the gift Flourish Bakery offers. We are all incredibly similar.”
From Job Skills to Life Skills
To find the right participants, Flourish Bakery does outreach to recovery centers to find individuals who may be interested. Once they apply, they interview and have them meet the team to see if they’d be a good fit.
Sarah Vogel, Flourish’s social media coordinator, explains, “We also see where they are in their recovery journey. Based on that, we start the internship.”
Vogel describes the internship as more of a job training skills program rather than a traditional internship.
“When you’re an intern here, we do a reflection every day. We all sit down and talk about a given topic, or what’s been going on at the bakery,” says Vogel. “We do weekly workouts with Warrior Strength, which is a recovery-based fitness program. We also work with AAA Fair Credit Foundation to help folks get their financial needs in order, and we provide a variety of other wellness programs.”
Flourish also has a chaplain on staff who interns can meet with one-on-one and get support for a particular issue anyone may be going through. That plus the staff and other participants at Flourish offer a sense of community they all truly need.
“We all eat lunch together every day,” Vogel says. “I love seeing the bond between the staff and the interns. We all work together and really bond. Anytime we’re interested in learning a baking technique, that’s always available to us. it makes it more unique than your typical office job.”
Once participants complete the internship at Flourish Bakery, they do a three-month externship. This helps them gain real-world experience that they can always take with them.
Much like an ER is the first stop for those who have experienced physical trauma, Altizer explains the importance of the initial recovery process from drug abuse or incarceration. However, if someone doesn’t continue their treatment with physical therapists or others who help them truly heal, then another ER visit is sure to follow.
“Those in recovery need support, accountability—they need community. Flourish Bakery is where they can practice their life on their own while stabilizing skills,” she says. “Many grow to love the culinary arts and continue in that field through the externship and eventual employment, while others move on to other things. Either way, they learn a lot during their time at Flourish.
She adds, “There are many parallels from baking to life. You can ask, ‘How did I end up here?’ Baking is organic chemistry that requires balance. Just like in life, you have to figure out why something is working or isn’t working.”
Flourish has had 24 participants so far, some of them staying a short time and others completing an internship and an externship.
When participants “graduate” or finish their time at Flourish Bakery, it’s always bittersweet. On one hand, the staff and other participants say goodbye. But they also get to experience watching the participant flourish.
One of Vogel’s favorite memories was when a recent intern finished his time up at Flourish.
“We have a chef of the day where this individual presented a variety of baked goods that he had made,” Vogel recalls. “He did the actual physical presentation but then also shared why each recipe was important to him. Just seeing the community surrounding him and supporting him and getting to taste these delicious treats he was made, it was really touching.”
That intern was Dennis Sisneros, who started selling drugs when he was 21. During his time in federal prison, Sisneros learned to bake, and it was the beginning of him turning his life around.
“They had a lot of jobs, but I didn’t want to be a cook. I started out as a dishwasher and worked my way up into the bakery,” Sisneros says. “I was in federal prison for six years, and during that time I found out that I loved to bake and became the lead supervisor while I was there. After a while, I learned that making 2,000 cinnamon rolls for people every Wednesday takes a talent.”
Two years ago, Sisneros was at federal drug court and was asked what he liked to do during his time in prison. Baking came up.
“The federal prosecutor introduced me Flourish and asked if I was interested, and I said, ‘Yeah I’m interested! Show me the ropes. What do I have to do?’” Sisneros says. “They told me that I had to have sobriety under my belt first before I could apply. I was doing really good; they let me apply. I ended up relapsing and going on the run. When I got back, I wasn’t able to go back to drug court, but I was able to apply for Flourish again.”
Sisneros ended up staying at Flourish for 18 months, and now he is getting ready to graduate—the third graduate from Flourish. He is currently working in the bakery at Harmons Grocery—something he never would have pictured himself doing only a few years ago.
“I’ve found my passion,” he says. “Everyone at federal court and Flourish believed in me when I was going through a rough patch, and they believed that I could do anything I wanted to do. I couldn’t have done this without them backing me. I’m really proud to be the third graduate. I wish there was more programs out there for people in recovery because you know, when we go through rough patches, it’s hard. You have to have people who believe in you to make it.”
Visit flourishslc.org to learn more.
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