Baking goodies for the greater good

Carla Jones baking with a pupil

Carla Jones ’05

For Carla Jones ’05, a baker’s dozen is more than just a nostalgic tie to her alma mater’s lucky number. It’s another productive day in “the office” — the St. Louis, Mo., kitchens that are home to the nonprofit organization Angel Baked Cookies. An after-school employment program, Angel Baked Cookies hires teenagers to spend afternoons baking cookies alongside their mentor and friend, Ms. Jones.

“We always say we’re not really making cookies, we’re making people; we’re teaching teens how to be great people and how to make something of themselves,” Jones said. “The cookies are awesome, too.”

Classified as a violence prevention organization by the federal government, Angel Baked works to keep youth off the streets in the hours of high-crime rates after the school day has ended and parents may still be at work (3:30–6:30). The program is part of North Grand Neighborhood Services (NGNS), a 501c3 nonprofit responsible for both construction and community development in the north side of St. Louis.

In 2006, Jones began as a volunteer with the organization’s construction side (called The Solomon Project), through which NGNS obtains property in the neighborhood and rebuilds. Then, in 2010, she went from building to baking when she was hired as a program manager for Angel Baked Cookies.

For the teens, involvement in the Angel Baked Cookies program begins with an application and an interview. All interested teens are guaranteed an interview, which is also meant to be a learning experience for them. Jones and her fellow staff members provide the teens with constructive feedback throughout the interview and allow them to reframe their answers.

The beginning of each shift in the kitchen starts with reflection for the teens. Jones facilitates the sessions, encouraging them to talk about their lives while baking. “It allows them to open up in a small group setting,” she said.

Jones’s role also includes weekend excursions passing out cookie samples at grocery stores, selling the treats at markets with the teens, attending back-to-school events, and finding new ways to advertise the company’s mission. The teens’ participation also involves more than just kitchen time. They attend workshops to hone skills like résumé writing, professionalism, financial literacy, and public speaking.

One day this past winter, Jones’s office received an unusual phone call. The FBI was calling to tell the organization that they had won the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for their service to the St. Louis community.

To surprise the teens with the news of the award, the Angel Baked Cookies staff staged a mock workshop on the day the FBI came. The teens teased the staff that they had been “punked,” Jones joked — but, on a serious note, it also provided yet another teaching opportunity. She noted that most of the young adults perceive law enforcement as untrustworthy, so this helped them see that something positive can come out of government agencies.

At Angel Baked Cookies, the recipe for success is more than just flour, eggs, sugar, and other sweets — the main ingredients are the care and devotion of the staff. For Jones, her favorite aspect of the job is working with the teens, which is no small task because they bring to the kitchen their own personal struggles and adversity. Yet it is her dedication that proves to be the critical ingredient in both a delicious cookie and an enjoyable learning experience for the teens.

“It’s awesome to see these teens grow and improve,” Jones said. “When you see them out at a market making sales, people are excited to talk and interact with them, and it’s that kind of energy that’s really rewarding.”

— Lauren Casella ’16