· March 14, 2020
Aurora Bakery in Newport, N.H., helps teens and adults with different abilities learn job skills — and bake up some tasty treats.
By Brianna Marino
Nestled behind a charming courtyard on Newport N.H.’s Main Street, Aurora Bakery is a small but mighty force of tasty treats and big hearts.
Inside the cozy bakery, a familiar sweet scent wafts through the air. Behind the bakery counter — which is well stocked with everything from cinnamon buns to cookies — you will find people hard at work simultaneously crafting delectable baked goods and honing life skills many take for granted. This confection perfection is the brainchild of Megan Walker, the founder of Aurora Bakery.
HERE’S THE STORY
As a young child, Megan had a close friend, Trudy, who happens to have a disability. Following high school, Megan and Trudy worked together to help Trudy improve her job skills. Trudy still had a difficult time finding a job as the opportunity for a good match wasn’t available.
Fast-forward to the present: Megan has created the opportunity that her friend Trudy needed at Aurora Bakery by inviting participants of all skill levels to focus on improving their life skills while creating meaningful and yummy products.
Partnering with the Road to Independence (a nonprofit pre-vocation training program for individuals with differing abilities), Megan combines her cooking background with her desire to help people with those differing abilities. While attending culinary school, she had the idea of integrating people with disabilities into baking. “Baking is my passion and I thought it would be a perfect fit,” she says.
Director of Road to Independence (RTI), Margaret Coulter (whose passion originates from experiences with her own disabled brother) was instrumental in helping start the bakery.
With business planning was in place, Aurora Bakery was fortunate to establish itself in a space previously occupied as a bakery and already furnished with the necessary baking equipment, making the opening process a little smoother.
Aurora Bakery is one of a few different venues (including a horticulture and miniature donkey handling program) that RTI offers. All programs focused on life skills, but the bakery allows participants to work on the same skills in a different environment than the agriculture-based programs.
LEARNING WHILE DOING
On any given day, Megan and a part-time paid employee can be found teaching mixing, frosting and baking techniques with some of the 20 volunteer participants that might arrive throughout the day. Megan starts her mornings between 6 and 7 a.m. and has the first participants ready to help around 9:30. They may volunteer for 30 minutes to two hours, with different volunteers coming in throughout the day.
Baking participants enter Aurora Bakery along a varied spectrum of skill sets. If participants aren’t able to be directly hands-on with food, they might assist by assembling boxes. A good starting point for others may be whipping up a batch of basic cookie dough. Megan works alongside all participants and, as she puts it, “I meet them where they are at and try to grow them from there.”
Just like their experience and abilities, the participants are themselves equally as varied. Megan says that some are currently in high school and join the bakery for a semester. Others are adults who don’t want or fit with traditional jobs but need to fill time in a meaningful way. Some of the participants have been with Aurora Bakery since it opened its doors in June 2017.
The best goodies are sold at the busy front counter, and still-edible mistakes are donated. The front counter presents an opportunity for participants to learn customer service and retail operations skills. In addition to on site, Aurora Bakery’s delicious wares can be found for sale at Spring Ledge Farm in New London, N.H., and local farmers’ markets and community events.
However, more than just baked goods come from Megan’s coaching. Thanks to the skills learned at Aurora Bakery, one participant now has a job make dog biscuits for Angel Bones, a local Claremont, N.H., company.
Megan’s favorite part? “Definitely working with participants and seeing how far they can go. We don’t put limits on it,” she says. “It’s great to see that growth.”
Since the opening, customer response has been positive, too, with many customers unaware of Aurora Bakery’s mission prior to ordering at the counter. Megan hears “Glad I stopped in to support this” often.
“People feel like they’re giving back,” she says. And they get to satisfy a sweet tooth – good for everyone!
Brianna Marino lives with her husband, three children, cat and various livestock on a small homestead. For more DIY, recipes and homesteading adventures with kids, follow her blog at mountsunapeehomestead.com
Jim Block enjoys photographing almost anything: children, adults, families and celebrations; nature and wildlife; sports and action; buildings and businesses. His clients range from publishers to businesses to individuals. He has taught digital photography courses to small groups since 2000. Please explore Jim’s website at jimblockphoto.com