COOKIE CART ALL-STARS
At the Cookie Cart on West Broadway in north Minneapolis, every batch of cookies comes with a side order of life skills. At any one time, the 35-year-old nonprofit employs 65 young people, ages 15 through 17, at jobs that start with clean up and progress to building boxes, scooping dough and waiting on telephone and in-store customers.
The bakery program is only the beginning. Once employees have shown their commitment and work readiness, they graduate to three additional programs that combine work shifts with classroom training in interview techniques, work skills and "Superior Customer Service." The capstone is the National Career Readiness Certificate, developed by the ACT, which tests both cognitive abilities and soft skills. Last year, 28 Cookie Cart employees obtained the certificate, studying at the store on donated computers and in some cases tutored by Cookie Cart volunteers.
The bakery sold more than 250,000 cookies last year, but sales make up only a third of the program's budget. The rest comes from grants and donations. For more, go to cookiecart.org.
A job at the Cookie Cart requires active enrollment in school with a minimum 2.0 GPA. Over time, reminders from supervisors and peers tend to improve workers' dress and behavior. "Our expectations are high," said Executive Director Matt Halley. Still, "there's a difference between Cookie Cart and a traditional workplace. We might say, 'Punch out for the day,' but you won't lose your job for a first offense."
Kaela Franklin and Quincy Powe are Cookie Cart All-Stars who have been through all of the levels of training. Franklin was referred to the Cookie Cart by another business where she applied for a job. She has been working there for 17 months. She plans to go to college and law school after graduation. Powe got curious about the business after driving by with his grandmother, who told him, "Look it up." He did, then came in and applied. He's been working for 9 months. His goal is a career in international business, and he's begun studying Japanese.
How have your work habits changed since you started at Cookie Cart?
Powe: I'm more active. There's a time measure you have to keep. I'm more responsible about every order -- how many dozen, what size box, how to pack them. I always have someone check my orders. Franklin: I was really bad about time. Now I have a saying, "Being early is on time, and being on time is late." I also learned I'm really good at multitasking -- I can handle sports, work and school.
What do you learn in the classroom that makes you a better employee?
Franklin: You learn how to be more comfortable meeting new people -- how to open up and greet the customer. They teach you about solving conflict. You learn what to wear to a job interview. Powe: You build confidence -- you even do public speaking. You learn that it's important to know something about the job and the organization when you go in for an interview.
How is working at Cookie Cart different from other jobs?
Franklin: Your supervisor will take the time to be a mom and tell somebody their jeans are too tight. They say it in a way that says, "I care about you." Powe: They help you grow. Most of us are going to college and moving on.
What's the single most important thing you've learned at Cookie Cart?
Franklin: Never give up. Powe: Look for opportunities to grow.