Program puts the cart before the career

  • Article by: SHAY RADHAKRISHNAN , Math and Science Academy
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 11:53 PM

Cookie Cart provides teens the often-elusive opportunity to gain work experience and skills.

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Student employees of Cookie Cart, a north Minneapolis nonprofit, also work outside the bakery by pitching the program at job and career fairs.

Photo: Photo by Jerry Holt,

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Unless you’ve attempted to crack three eggs without dropping a piece of eggshell, you may not see baking as inherently strategic. But it requires precise steps to reach a goal.

And that goal is delicious baked goods — be it cookies, cake or whatever gooey treat your heart desires.

Cookie Cart, a north Minneapolis nonprofit, offers teens the opportunity to gain professional skills by working in a commercial-style bakery while making, decorating and selling cookies. The products are sold in stores and local businesses, including Cargill and Land O’ Lakes, which both are partners of the organization.

“I know it is challenging to get those first jobs or other opportunities, especially in that [north Minneapolis] neighborhood,” said Meggie McCauley, Cookie Cart’s sales and community outreach manager. “We have a good standing in the community, and a lot of parents push their kids to go to Cookie Cart because of the good reputation that we have.”

Sister Jean Thuerauf, a Catholic nun, founded Cookie Cart in 1988. The company started in her kitchen, and has grown to an operation employing 145 teens.

McCauley said Cookie Cart’s goal is to make it easy for teens to apply for and land their first job. The main phone number even has an extension that asks specifically if you are between ages 15 and 17 and looking for work.

Businesses that teenagers would typically start working in are filled with adults who need those jobs — especially in north Minneapolis, McCauley said. That’s where Cookie Cart can help.

“It’s just to show that north Minneapolis does have something to offer teens who … don’t really have any experience but want a job. We can do something for them and help them later on in life,” said Naomi Montgomery, a sales and community outreach intern at Cookie Cart.

“[Teens say] ‘Wow, you know, Cookie Cart is the only job that accepted me, even though I didn’t have any prior experience.’ ”

In addition to a paycheck, the program offers career readiness classes. It allows teens to learn several new skills upon working in the kitchen.

“I’ve learned communication skills, because normally, I just like working by myself and being independent,” said 16-year-old Deayzha King of north Minneapolis, who has been working at Cookie Cart since September. “I learned how to work well with others and how to work better in a group.”

Another Cookie Cart employee from the neighborhood, 18-year-old Cameron Crawford, said that he has become more confident around people by working at Cookie Cart for the past two years.

“I picked up how to be more observant … how to talk to people, how to make eye contact,” Crawford said.

When teens first start at Cookie Cart, they are generally in the bakery, where they learn to process dough, pack orders and interact with customers, Montgomery said. Teens eventually work cash registers and execute larger demands, all while taking classes to learn how to speak at community events, dress for an interview and write a résumé.

Montgomery — who started as a youth employee at 16, moved up to bakery assistant and was hired as an intern last year — said she’s “grown up in the organization and has really shown what I can offer.”

“Why I really stayed working at Cookie Cart is because of the teens who work here,” McCauley said. “In my role, as well as Naomi’s, we take a lot of teens on events. And just seeing them having a lot less confidence starting out — being very shy when talking to people — and then seeing them blossom and have confidence … is really why I wanted to work here.”

In the end, more than cookies are made. So are futures.

“And that’s what [Cookie Cart] is all about,” Montgomery said. “It’s just to get you that experience, and help you fill up that résumé so that when you have your next job, you’ll have something under your belt to get you there.”

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