Sara Portman Milner, co-Founder of Sunflower Bakery

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Some people aspire to change the world and are still hard at work on that. At Sunflower, we literally have the opportunity to see lives change, both for individuals and in turn for whole families.
— Sara Portman Milner
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What is the mission of your organization?

Sunflower Bakery and Cafe Sunflower are dedicated to providing skilled job training and employment for adults 18+ with learning differences in pastry arts, production baking, barista service and front of house operations.

Why did you decide to start Sunflower Bakery?

We started Sunflower Bakery because only one-in-three working-age Americans with a disability has a job, whereas 78% of those without a disability are employed. Students with learning differences who are transitioning from school to work are in dire need of options for skilled training that allows them to pursue a passion, use their creativity, and produce products that can be enjoyed by the whole community, just like their peers.

How would you connect your organization to a Jewish value?

Of Maimonides' eight levels of charity, the greatest is to support a fellow Jew by enabling them to support themselves, so that they are not dependent on others. We "teach people to fish!"

What's the best part of your job and why?

Some people aspire to change the world and are still hard at work on that. At Sunflower, we literally have the opportunity to see lives change, both for individuals and in turn for whole families. Students who are use to failure and struggle find success and appreciation for their abilities. They gain self-confidence as they enhance their competence. We witness miracles every day!

What has inspired you in the work that you are doing?

Children and teens with learning differences are included by law in their schools. When they graduate, they struggle to find career training and jobs out in the community. I am inspired by those individuals, and their supportive families, who strive to be the best they can be and who work so hard to do what so many others take for granted.

What’s a story about your organization that is meaningful to you?

Sunflower does not discriminate in its acceptance policy; our students are not all Jewish. We don't ask the question and have been surprised when a student comments at Purim, "My grandmother has always made delicious hamantaschen for us, but our father is not Jewish." Indeed, there have been a number of Jewish students who have been disenfranchised from the Jewish community for many years. After training at Sunflower, they have reconnected to their Jewishness. They now identify as Jewish and participate in the community in ways they never did before.

What has surprised you about working with your organization?

The broader community has embraced both Sunflower Bakery and Cafe Sunflower. Some customers purposely schedule meetings with colleagues and others at Cafe Sunflower, traveling some distance. When asked, they tell us that they love the atmosphere, the employees' excellent service and the yummy sweets!

To learn more about Sunflower Bakery visit www.sunflowerybakery.org.

Amy Benarroch