Together We Bake program manager Colida Johnson speaks at the nonprofit's second annual empowerment breakfast.
Photo by James Cullum/Gazette Packet
Alexandria’s Colida Johnson was honored by a standing ovation on Wednesday at the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Johnson, a graduate and now program manager of the Together We Bake workforce and personal development program, lived on the couches of friends and family for six years and told the audience of her second chance.
The event was Together We Bake’s second annual fundraiser breakfast and the applause was directed at the program graduates who are working to turn around their lives.
“My children saved me, but Together We Bake saved my soul,” Johnson told the audience. “The support that they give us — it’s unbelievable. It’s so much more than just a program. It’s a family.”
Together We Bake was founded by friends Stephanie Wright and Tricia Sabatini in 2012. The six month program, held in the Downtown Baptist Church at 212 South Washington St., has handed 126 graduates — a majority of whom were former female prison inmates, victims of domestic abuse and the homeless — ServSafe certificates as well as teaching baking, life skills and empowerment training. Standing alongside Wright and Sabatini was Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, a City Council candidate, who merged her company Fruitcycle with Together We Bake in 2016.
“We really love our graduates,” Wright said. “And so much of our growth has been by word of mouth. People tell other people and it grows. I’m thrilled that today was a packed house.”
Rebecca Carpenter, 43, graduated from the program in 2015, and said she was homeless for a number of years after a divorce.
“We do yoga together, we all love to bake. Being in that kitchen together is pure joy. It’s pure happiness,” Carpenter said. “Overcoming some my fears — it’s going to take a while to completely get over them, but I think we’ll get there. There are things I’ve forgotten about myself since I was married, I guess. Being divorced has been hard but also eye-opening now that I feel like I’m coming back alive as a single woman.”
Mayor Allison Silberberg commended the nonprofit for its work.
“I love Together We Bake,” Silberberg said. “Together We Bake is absolutely changing lives year in, year out, and it’s a community effort. They’re an incredible nonprofit that has given people another chance to move forward with their lives, and we all deserve second chances. Everyone does. It takes courage to move forward, and they’re trying to get back on their feet. Together We Bake helps make that possible. Alexandria is a city of kindness and compassion, and Together We Bake exemplifies those values very clearly, and I’m very grateful to them.”