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Making organic, from scratch cupcakes gives brain injury survirors job readiness skills

Bakers put the finishing touches on freshly baked cupcakes with the help of professional pastry chef Daniel Farris, furthest from the camera.

Looking for a sweet treat with a side of benevolence? Head to Sarah Bellum's Bakery and Workshop in Multnomah Village. It is a social enterprise bakery that supports adults with brain injury to return to work and life by baking delicious, hand-crafted cupcakes.

Dozens and dozens of cupcakes are baked each day from quality, organic ingredients and then exquisitely decorated.

Who is Sarah Bellum? The name is a play on words. Sarah Bellum refers to the cerebellum of the brain; it's the coordination control center regulating language, motor and cognitive

skills.

"We are all about a coordinated team effort here at Sarah Bellum's Bakery and Workshop," said Lake Oswego resident Faith Walmer, who serves as outreach director and front end manager of the bakery. Her husband, Had Walmer, is a brain injury survivor and involved in Sarah Bellum's Bakery.

From left are Had Walmer, a baker with brain injury, Sarah Bellums founder Rik Lemoncello and Faith Walmer, who serves as outreach director for Sarah Bellums Bakery and Workshop.

Sarah Bellum's was founded by Rik Lemoncello, an associate professor of speech-language pathology at Pacific University. As an avid and self-taught baker and a clinician/researcher interested in supporting adults with brain injuries he had dreamed of opening a bakery like this since he earned his Ph.D at University of Oregon in 2008.

In 2016, Lemoncello was awarded Pacific's Dr. Thomas Thompson Distinguished Professorship in Education award, which came with funding for a scholarly program.

Lemoncello decided to develop a bakery to do functional therapy with people with brain injury, as opposed to doing drills with them in an office setting. Passionate about baking, he developed proprietary cupcake recipes and then he and Walmer visited a similar bakery program in St. Louis, Missouri to study the model. He then worked with colleagues at Pacific's College of Business to develop marketing and business plans.

PMG PHOTO: BARB RANDALL  - The front window at Sarah Bellums Bakery and Workshop in Multnomah Village shows off some of the cupcakes made in the shop by the bakers.

Pacific University graduate students in occupational therapy and speech and language pathology programs work one-on-one with individual brain injury survivors, or "bakers with brain injury," to bake and decorate dozens of cupcakes. The students function more as coaches than instructors.

Leading the efforts in the kitchen is Daniel Farris, a former professional pastry chef for Disney Corporation.

"I come in earlier and do some prep," he said. "But this is all about the bakers. Most have never baked before and it's hard to be on your feet for so long. This is a strength-based program. We just slow the pace down and focus what they can do, and help them do that."

Lemoncello said Sarah Bellum's most important goal is to help adults with brain injury gain skills and experiences that assist with their rehabilitation and return to the job market. Returning to work is a major challenge for many brain-injury survivors because of cognitive issues — they may have difficulty focusing, remembering things, following instructions and adapting to change. Many also struggle with physical challenges, including balance problems, muscle weakness, fatigue and vision and hearing issues that make it difficult to communicate with others.

Lemoncello says more than half of survivors of brain injury don't return to paid work because of cognitive challenges, and there are limited support services for adult survivors. Sarah Bellum's is helping fill the void.

"Baking and decorating cupcakes provides an excellent, functional format for gaining vocational skills and strategies to stay focused, learn to use new equipment and practice new skills," Lemoncello said. "All of this helps promote new learning, self-confidence and self-regulation."

It took Lemoncello a full year to plan the program. In 2017 Sarah Bellum's began selling cupcakes at farmers markets. The bakers were coached by a graduate student while Lemoncello supervised the graduate students and managed the entire program. The program continued to grow and expand and by summer 2018 they were preparing 20 different varieties of cupcakes for sale at five different farmers markets.

In the fall of 2018, a retail space in Multnomah Village came available. With the help of generous donors and sponsors they raised more than $50,000 to renovate the space, purchase equipment and build a commercial kitchen and retail café space.

"We officially opened our doors Dec. 11, 2018," Lemoncello said. "With a permanent space that is customized for our operations we are able to provide ongoing, individualized supports, routine and structure and expanded opportunities for adults with acquired brain injury to get

involved in return-to-work training and supports."

Lemoncello and Walmer encourage all to visit Sarah Bellum's Bakery and Workshop and purchase the cupcakes created by bakers with brain injury. The shop is located at 7828 SW Capitol Hwy., Portland OR 97219. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The bakery is closed Monday and Tuesday. Visit sarahbellumsbakery.org for more information.


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