Changemakers: Rising Above Bakery helps individuals with special needs shape skills, build confidence

Changemakers

Shiri Reuveni-Ullrich has worked with individuals with special needs for the past 20 years, and she’s never been afraid to get her hands dirty. 

She said she had trouble “finding meaning” in more formal speech therapy structures. Eventually, she combined her love of helping others with her love of baking — and while she admits the hands-on approach is untraditional, the positive results were immediate.

“It felt like each one of them found a voice in the kitchen,” she said. “And that’s when the lightbulb went off and I said ‘this is it. This is what they need to do.'” 

Now, she’s formalized that practice through her nonprofit Rising Above Bakery.

“To me it was a no-brainer,” Reuveni-Ullrich explained to PIX11’s Tamsen Fadal. “I had to do something to help these individuals find meaning in their life after they come out of the Board of Education.”

The students she works with are between 16 and 21 years old, and some are on the edge of aging out of the school system. Parents of these special needs students often refer to this period as “the cliff,” Reuveni-Ullrich said. Typically, individuals on the spectrum regress after leaving a classroom setting — to combat this, Rising Above Bakery provides them with socialization and the opportunity to learn meaningful job skills.

“One of our missions is to introduce the true abilities of these individuals,” Reuveni-Ullrich said. “They can do anything.”

The bakery was slowly developed over the past two years, and currently it operates as a “cottage bakery” out of Reuveni-Ullrich’s dining room. She said they refer to the operation as “baker-ish.” Customers can order online and then schedule to pick up products at locations around New York and New Jersey. Eventually, Rising Above Bakery plans to open a physical location to better serve the community and volunteers.

“It’s all fun, but we need to grow,” Reuveni-Ullrich said. “Our vision is to be open to the community. … And I guarantee that you’ll leave with a smile, because it will be an awesome environment.”

Correction: The spelling of Shiri Reuveni-Ullrich’s name has been updated.

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