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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Daymara Baker (left), owner of the Rockin' Bakery, separates eggs with Cynthia Shaver, bakery assistant.

When you walk into the cozy space that is Rockin' Baker, located in Fayetteville just south of the Northwest Arkansas Mall at 3761 N. Mall Ave., it's the heavenly aroma that hits you first. Owner and operator Daymara Baker and her crew bake fresh loaves of cleverly named breads ("The Grateful Dead" and "Butterfield Trail Mix" sourdough) starting at the crack of dawn each morning. Look around, and you'll see beautiful cafe tables handmade by Baker's husband out of aged cherry from his native Mountainburg. Original art hangs on the wall -- a still life (featuring a beautiful loaf of bread, of course) created by Baker and a series of paintings by a local artist, which are also for sale. Delicious looking bread, salads, sandwiches and cookies fill the glass cases.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Daymara Baker, owner of the Rockin’ Baker, displays some of her baked goods inside her bakery in Fayetteville. Visit Rockin’ Baker at 3761 N. Mall Ave. Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The space just feels special. And when you find out why Baker calls her artisan loaves "bread with benefits," you realize how special it really is. Rockin' Baker hires and trains employees who have special circumstances that may impact their ability to be employed -- for example, people with developmental disabilities and those who need second chances after a history of incarceration.

How to Help<

Have breakfast or lunch, Tuesday through Saturday, at Rockin’ Baker, 3761 N. Mall Ave.

Find out more about volunteering, sponsoring, or partnering with Rockin’ Baker by calling 313-6767

Donate so that Daymara Baker can expand her operations and hire more employees at www.rockinbakeracademy.org

"Daymara does everything she can to make many, many people's lives better," says Amie Glass, whose daughter, Leah, works at Rockin' Baker. Leah, who is a person living with autism, has a two-year math and science degree from Northwest Arkansas Community College and was taking classes in the culinary program at NWACC.

"It was a huge struggle for her," says Glass. "Communication and understanding what the instructor wanted -- pretty much every aspect of the program had these conflicts for her. And the noise of the kitchen was hard for her. So I decided, before we went any further with this, I wanted to see if this was something she would even be able to do." An Internet search led her to Rockin' Baker, and, with the help of an Arkansas Support Network job coach, Leah settled into her job in the kitchen of Rockin' Baker. Glass says that she, Baker and Leah have worked as a team, smoothing out the bumps in the road to make a clear path for Leah to learn a new trade.

"It's challenging, but it's a lot of fun," says Leah. "I worked at another corporate bakery, but I was miserable. They hired me to be a baker, but they would never let me bake because I wasn't fast enough. I mean, of course I wasn't fast enough! This was the first time I had done this. But here, I actually get to bake, and I get to make my own recipes."

"Overwhelmingly, this experience has been just miraculous for Leah," says Glass. "She really enjoys being part of a team. Before, she never liked working as a team. She couldn't do it. She never wanted to talk to people before, and now she's at the front counter serving coffee. With Daymara's help, she's created a recipe for cookies that she markets herself. She's learning to be a functioning person through the tutelage of someone who is not her parent and who truly cares about her. Daymara cares that Leah succeeds."

Cynthia Shaver came to work at Rockin' Baker three months ago, after a nine-month stint in the Arkansas Community Correction Center.

"It's hard for a convicted felon to find a job," says Shaver quietly. "It's really hard. Some people say they're not biased, but they are. Daymara is offering a second chance. People make mistakes. I'm learning to be in society again and how to talk to people. Daymara wants to teach you things. I never knew how to bake bread, from beginning to end and all the steps in between. I'm learning a new set of skills. So wherever I go, I can take this with me. She offers a really safe and clean environment, and I'm learning something all of the time.

"I'm really proud of myself. Being accountable with my time, surrounding myself with better people, and, for the right reasons ... I go to work every day. I show up. I show up for my life."

Baker --a co-founder of the Community Creative Center in Fayetteville who is no stranger to community contributions -- says she had been mulling over ideas for some time on how to create an organization that would have an impact on underserved and vulnerable people in the Northwest Arkansas area.

"I wanted to create a concept that would allow me to provide some kind of training for people -- specifically because I really believe in education as a way to advance," she says. "I wanted to combine my passion for helping people with something that the community would support."

Baker had been inspired to learn how to bake bread when she moved to the United States, where the dependence on processed foods was difficult for her to digest. When she had the idea to open the bakery, she formalized her training at the San Francisco Baking Institute and followed that up with an apprenticeship at a bakery in Cincinnati. According to her employees, not only did she cement her skills, but she also learned how to teach the trade of baking well.

"She's very kind and patient," says Shaver. "I have trouble with math, so learning the recipes is a little daunting for me, but she takes her time and helps you learn it."

"She's a great teacher," says Leah. "I wish she had the credentials to teach at Brightwater, because people would learn so much from her."

Baker would love to expand her operations in order to hire more employees, and Glass is working with her to find grants for which the organization would qualify. At the top of the wish list is a bread dough divider, the purchase of which would allow Baker to hire as many as 10 more people in need of job training or second chances and to possibly take on corporate bread orders. Glass says she has negotiated with the manufacturer and reduced the cost from $21,000 to $5,200, but she has found that many possible sources of donations or grants respond that the organization is too small to effect much change.

"This is something that is starting off small, but we can grow it," says Glass. "What I want everybody to understand is that one out of every 56 boys and one out of every 107 girls is diagnosed with autism. If we do not start looking at what we're going to do with them as adults and how we can train them to do jobs, then we're going to have a bottleneck at some point. Our society is going to be taking care of people who are very capable if we could just teach them properly."

Baker's intention to help those who have been incarcerated is equally necessary. According to a recent Arkansas Department of Correction study, rates of recidivism in Arkansas continue to rise, now hovering just below 50 percent. A lack of employment opportunities for those with criminal records is often cited as a reason for that growing statistic.

Glass says Baker's recipe for offering job training and gainful employment to vulnerable populations in Northwest Arkansas is a definite success.

"Daymara has found something that is wonderful, and it has changed my daughter's life," says Glass. "Now Leah's thinking, 'What can I do to contribute to a business, to contribute to others getting opportunities?' This is all empathy that you can't create in a person -- it's there, it just needs to be triggered. That experience is priceless. To a parent, that kind of success is the most important thing."

NAN Profiles on 09/17/2017

Print Headline: Rockin' Baker cooks up recipe for employees to find job success

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