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Brownies Change Lives in New York


Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York, is on a mission to give work to those who are hard-to-employ. The project is turning lives around and at the same time bringing in millions of dollars in revenue.

Dion Drew works at Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York.

He says he sold drugs while growing up, until he was arrested. “I got incarcerated in 2004, winded up doing four years in a state penitentiary. I came home in 2008 and decided enough was enough. My mom was getting older, I wanted to start a family of my own, so that is the track I went on. It was kind of hard because I did not know what direction to go. I had a plan, but I did not know where to go," he said.

He says because he had a criminal record it was hard for him to find work. Then he heard about Greyston and finally got a job. He has been there three years and now has a wife and baby daughter.

He is part of a team that each day produces more than five tons of brownies - rich chocolate cakes.

He says the work can be hard, but being part of the community has changed his life. “I was illegal since I was a teenager. Now to be legal and working on credit, bank accounts and stuff like that, it means a lot. It feels like I am part of society now. Before, I did not feel like that," he said.

Greyston Bakery was started back in 1982 by a Zen Buddhist named Bernie Glassman, as a way to sustain his meditation group financially.

Today, it is a business that earns millions of dollars a year with 90 percent of its sales coming from an ice cream company, Ben & Jerry’s.

What makes Greyston different from other businesses is the people it employs. Most are those who are considered hard to employ, either because they have a criminal record or for other reasons, such as poor English skills or a history of mental illness.

They are trained in a year-long apprenticeship program and are then eligible to join the bakery’s union and get benefits.

Steven Brown is president of the Greyston Foundation, a group that uses small businesses to provide jobs and employment training in the community. “The bakery has a very unique hiring practice. We hire people regardless of their experience on a first come, first serve basis. We call it open hiring. Somebody walks into the door, they sign up, and when we need more staff, we invite them for orientation and then we hire them based on their place on the list," he said.

Dozens of men and women are employed here. Some stay only briefly, but others for decades. Brown says Greyston gives them opportunities. "What we find is that we are able to hire people who other companies would not give a chance to. So we have people who were formerly homeless, people who were formerly incarcerated, people who formerly had substance abuse issues," he said.

Brown's business is helping the community, and he says the brownies taste all the better for it.

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