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Jun 28, 2016 3:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

South Fork Bakery Offers Meaningful Employment

Julian Garcia smiles as he counts change at the farmers'  market. KELLY ZEGERS
Jun 28, 2016 4:17 PM

Speech pathologist Shirley Ruch has always liked to bake with the children to whom she provides speech and language therapy. She said she finds that baking is therapeutic, and following directions helps children to develop skills such as auditory processing.Having worked with some of the same families for years—in speech therapy and as a family coach, training parents to find support in the community and in schools—Ms. Ruch observed that many kids were languishing after finishing school.

“A lot of the kids were getting older, and I was discovering from the parents that there’s a fallout after high school,” she said. “There’s really not a lot out there for them. They had a hard time finding employment in the area. Maybe some volunteer work, but nothing really paid—meaningful employment.”

But one day last fall, while walking her dog, Ms. Ruch had an idea: Why not take baking and make it a job for her former students?

And South Fork Bakery was formed.

“I know with her and her other clients, everyone was saying as they got older, ‘Well, how are these kids going to get paying work, which is really meaningful and doesn’t just make them fit into a box, but really takes their real skills?’” said Margery Mailman. Ms. Ruch has worked with Ms. Mailman’s three children for years, including providing speech therapy for her son, Julian Garcia, between the ages of 2 and 16.

Mr. Garcia, now 22, mans South Fork Bakery’s table at farmers markets, quickly and accurately making change for customers. He said he loves his job, a place where he gets to work alongside some of his best friends; his sisters, Sasha and Laila, 20-year-old twins, also work at South Fork Bakery.

Employees bake cookies in the kitchen at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, and the goods have been sold since May at farmers markets in Bridgehampton, Springs, Hampton Bays and Sag Harbor. Employees work on different aspects of the business from baking and sales to deliveries and social media.

“Here, people are being as independent as they can, but there’s also support—which is some of the issue in finding the right job,” Ms. Mailman said.

Ms. Ruch said it’s a way to educate the community that each individual is a resource—they’re great employees, as long as they get the support they need.

The bakery showed Ms. Ruch an advantage she hadn’t expected: There’s laughter in the kitchen and natural interaction as the employees work together, providing an experience in which social skills develop much more organically.

“It’s very unprompted and natural, because it’s a real venture,” Ms. Mailman said. “It’s not a ‘let’s pretend’ bakery. That’s been just amazing to see as a mom.”

South Fork Bakery is one of a few Long Island companies with a similar mission in mind. Its employees wear T-shirts made by Spectrum Designs, a Port Washington-based nonprofit that hires individuals with autism to provide paid and meaningful work opportunities, and Ms. Ruch is in talks with Our Coffee With a Cause, a Northport business, for collaboration in the future.

“It really is a movement that is starting to gain traction from cafés to businesses, because I think everyone is starting to realize, even within the autism community, people have said, ‘It’s not just about children,’” Ms. Mailman said.

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The ginger cookies are delicious, and the concept impressive.
By Meikle (3), Southampton NY on Aug 3, 16 11:48 PM
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