“It’s more than a cookie . . . it’s building relationships”
Mission: “Cookie Cart provides teens 15 to 17 years old with the lasting and meaningful work, life and leadership skills through experience and training in an urban nonprofit bakery.”
Patrick Henry High School salutes The Cookie Cart and Sister Jean this month. There are currently 17 Patrick Henry High School (PHHS) students participating in that enterprise that was started by the late Sister Jean Thuerauf almost 30 years ago. These teens join others from the Northside Community to participate in a four-part educational program for a year while earning a paycheck. About 60 students from several high schools work in the bakery in shifts that accommodate their after-school schedules.
In 1973, a virus infected Sister Jean’s brain and left her near death for more than two years; it also left her temporarily blind. After surgery, she eventually recovered. Then, in 1976 she says that she was “told by the Lord“ to go and live in North Minneapolis — but to leave her purse and driver`s license behind. In 1985 she formally founded the Mercy Missionaries. Thuerauf walked the streets with her toy monkey, Jocko, telling stories to children and ministering to residents. She connected residents with parishioners at Our Lady of Grace for help buying food and books for their children, among other needs.
Sister Jean invited children into her home on 15th and Morgan Avenue North in the 1980s where she kept drawers and shelves full of birthday gifts, a kitchen table for help with homework, and a warm oven in which to bake cookies. She recognized that there were greater aspirations for the older youth who dropped by her house, so she had some cookie carts constructed by volunteers and the youth would sell their homemade wares off West Broadway Avenue. In 1988 Sister Jean’s vision of developing a bakery for neighboring youth was formalized and registered as Cookie Cart, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The first storefront was started on Emerson Avenue. In 1996 Cookie Cart moved into its current location on West Broadway Avenue; renovation of that facility was completed in 2016 and another site created in St. Paul.
The four programs at Cookie Cart teach young people the “how-tos” and value of employment to ensure their success in the future workforce. They are:
* The Bakery Program – an experiential, first paid job for teens which teaches transferable employment skills by working in the Cookie Cart’s commercial bakery.
* 360 Degrees – A 10 unit classroom-based advanced employment skills training including interview skills, resume writing and conflict resolution.
* Customer Service – A six unit curriculum that teaches the concepts and skills required to present responsive service and a professional image. Interpersonal communication development is at the core of this training.
* National Career Readiness Certification – This assessment prepared by the ACT corporation measures job skills essential to success in a variety of occupations. Cookie Cart youth are supported through the certification process through enhanced training and professional image. Interpersonal communication development is at the core of this training.
Seven PHHS students were asked “What do you like about being a part of Cookie Cart?” Here are their responses:
Josh McCullough, “Cookie Cart offers the opportunity to network and meet people who may help you in the future. An example is Luther Auto sponsorship and job contacts. It is great working with teens my own age.”
Cicero Garcia, “I think it’s a great work environment, drama free. I think people should apply here because it’s a good opportunity and work experience.”
Yuepheng Vang, “I enjoy the surrounding people you work with. The manager is very nice and the scheduling is flexible. Cookie Cart is not just about making cookies; it’s also preparing for the reality of a real job. You have fun working there, too, as they make you feel welcome.”
Jayda White, “I love working at Cookie Cart! It gives a great opportunity to learn different skills, writing our resumes, customer service skills and help with homework. It’s an awesome first time job!”
Abduhl Ibrahim, “You get to be around teens and cookies! You gain valuable experiences in the work place and make cookies with professionals.”
Tommesha Love, “It’s kind of fun because it’s teens our own age and we’re all from the same community,”
Chikkina Beard, “Cookie Cart prepares you for the real world. It’s fun because you get a chance to meet new people you haven’t met before.”
Sister Jean passed away a year ago on June 20. Her legacy lives on in the hearts of several thousand teens who have worked at Cookie Cart over the years. Many of us have eaten the sweet treats as they are catered to Twin City functions, neighborhood gatherings, as well as being sold in the store on Broadway. And it all started at a kitchen table.
Stop by Cookie Cart at 1119 W Broadway Ave. For info contact 612-521-0855, Info@cookiecart.org and visit cookiecart.org.
This article was written by Sister Jean’s former neighbor Susan Breedlove.