Oatmeal and raisin’ young leaders

January 22, 2018

This Minnesotan nonprofit’s cookies-with-a-cause will be a hot commodity for tourists braving the cold.

At the end of a long work day, a group of bankers in blazers and a group of teenagers with backpacks arrive at a bakery in North Minneapolis. They put on hair nets, roll up their sleeves, and the teens start telling the bankers what to do. They dig into the dough, shaping dozens of oatmeal raisin cookies, and agreeing that it’s a significant arm workout.

It’s another day at Cookie Cart, a nonprofit that provides teenagers with work, life and leadership skills. The teen employees are involved in every aspect of running the bakery: operations, customer service, sales, and marketing. In addition, they receive career resources and training from a dedicated staff and a variety of volunteers.

The bakery is a popular volunteer spot for U.S. Bank employees, and the enthusiasm is mutual. 

“It’s fun for the kids to learn about different careers,” said Cookie Cart Executive Director Matt Halley. “They meet people in marketing and communications, and they get a sense of what’s possible for their own future. They also love showing off their bakery knowledge to the adults.”

The bakery is a busy operation, producing more than 10,000 cookies each week. Cookie Cart’s biggest clients are corporations and churches, with additional sales from their retail storefront and pop-up shops around the Twin Cities. Business is booming and a second location, in St. Paul, is in the works.

The students and staff are preparing for The Big Game, which could be a big marketing moment thanks to the additional visitors and national spotlight coming to Minneapolis. They have created a new football cookie design for watch parties, and they’re stocking up on frosting in team colors.

“At U.S. Bank, we invest in economic development in many ways including through our Work Pillar,” said U.S. Bank Chief Social Responsibility Officer Reba Dominski (pictured in center of group photo above), referring to the bank’s Community Possible giving platform. “Cookie Cart is a great partner because they support economic development in our local community, provide jobs and help prepare these teens for the future.”

Teenage female Rashi, in a yellow shirt and an apron, decorates a cookie with blue and white frosting, a local high school student, credits Cookie Cart with helping her develop leadership skills and confidence.

“I’ve learned how to work with coworkers, and I’ve learned how to lead,” she said. “I’ve also had to learn time management.” 

Rashi balances her job at the bakery with cheerleading, dance and, of course, school. Fortunately, her job at Cookie Cart allows her to prioritize schoolwork. 

“Cookie Cart understands,” she said. “They want you to achieve, to put your goals first.”

Charlie Broadnax, a senior vice president with U.S. Bank’s mortgage division, has served on Cookie Cart’s board of directors for four years. His first taste of the organization came when he saw the students selling cookies at his office building downtown Minneapolis. When he learned the story behind the organization, he wanted to be part of it.

“I am so impressed with the education and experience that these young adults are getting,” Charlie said. “It’s not just job skill training, but also financial literacy, leadership and professional skills that they’ll be able to apply to the rest of their lives.”

“Also, the cookies are really good.”

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