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Former Foster Kids Cook Up Life Skills

At Moxie Bakery and Cafe, Christina Quinn (L) gets advice from Elin Ross on more than how to bake cupcakes

Cafe classroom preps young adults for life on their own

Foster children, who are in state custody because their parents are unable to care for them, can have a difficult time growing up. Unlike children who have a family they can count on if they have difficulty making it on their own, foster children may not have anyone to rely on but themselves. A cafe that opened In October 2009 in Frederick, Maryland, outside of Washington, is helping them get started on the right track.

Serving more than coffee and pastries

Moxie Bakery and Cafe seems like many other eateries that offer coffee, pastries and light meals, but it's much more.

"It's a training ground and a classroom," says Elin Ross, executive director of Cakes for Cause, the program behind Moxie. "Cakes for Cause's role is to provide job training and life skills training to youth who have aged out of the foster care system, who are living in public housing or are otherwise identified as being at risk in the Frederick community."

Christina Quinn, who aged out of foster care, hopes to become a hair stylist after receiving life skills training through 'Cakes for Cause'.
Christina Quinn, who aged out of foster care, hopes to become a hair stylist after receiving life skills training through 'Cakes for Cause'.

Christina Quinn is about half-way through her six-month apprenticeship. When she turned 18 last year, she says, "I didn't know what to do with my life."

Someone told her about the Cakes for Cause program, and Quinn was eager to apply. "I love baking, so I thought, 'Okay that's really cool.' And she was like, 'They'll help you with future goals as well, like cosmetology.' And I said, 'That's so cool.' And she said, 'Also they are going to pay you to do it.'"

Learning more than how to bake cupcakes

Quinn earns $8 an hour, which is more than minimum wage. And even though she doesn't plan to be a baker or work in the restaurant business, she is learning skills she can use in any career, like how to relate to customers or how to take direction from a supervisor.

"If, at the end of six months, they hate cupcakes, that's fine," says Ross. "They can go into a retail job, they can go into a customer service job, they can go into a phone bank job. They can go into any number of jobs and have some basic transferable skills that will help them be successful in those positions."

Quinn plans to become a hair stylist, and Ross is helping her by letting her spend part of her apprenticeship at a salon in Frederick.

In addition to Ross, there are two full-time staff members at Moxie Bakery. They are not only professional bakers and chefs, they are also teachers. And Quinn is really the focus of all of their work.

"The entire staff is my support team, and when I got into our first meeting it was pretty much, 'Okay, Christina, what do you want to accomplish?' I never had that before and it was a great experience."

Quinn isn't alone. Visit Moxie Bakery and Cafe on other days of the week, and you may meet another apprentice getting that attention. Elin Ross would eventually like to replicate the program in other communities.