Meet 10 year old twins Emma and Amy Bushman. Born just moments apart, Amy is the artsy one who loves dabbling in the creation – drawing, building, and writing. Emma on the other hand is the more methodical, more critical thinker. You wouldn’t know it by looking at them that the girls are twins but it is pretty obvious they are best friends in the whole wide world.
And, as best friends go, they share an interest in music (Emma plays the flute while Amy plays the trumpet and piano), tennis, singing, and making a real difference in the world. They also happen to be entrepreneurs, volunteers, business women, and board members. That’s right. Emma and Amy (and their mother, Alison) began one of Cincinnati’s most unique nonprofits in their kitchen three years ago.
Today Bake Me Home serves hundreds of parents and their children each year (a statistic that continues to grow) through shelters and other agencies in four counties; and has more than 100 volunteers who assist. It is all about promoting volunteerism, enriching lives and strengthening family relationships, especially those who are facing significant personal challenges – and it’s centered around cookies!
The very beginning
Behind the scenes of Bake Me Home are two parents – Alison and Lee – who believe in teaching their children about the importance of giving back. The girls were not even in kindergarten yet when they began learning what it means to help other people. Alison said it really didn’t take a whole lot of convincing to get the twins to understand there are other kids who needed gifts much more than they did.
And so, at their fourth birthday party, Amy and Emma started asking their friends to bring books and toys for homeless children instead. Then they’d gather their gifts and deliver them with their mom to the Bethany House shelter for families; and while they were there, they made a pancake breakfast for everyone.
Fast forward three years
Being the astute person that she is, Emma was watching Teen Kids News one morning as she has many times. Only this time there was a story that spoke to her. It was the coverage of a Young Entrepreneurs Convention and Emma was blown away when she learned about other kids starting their own businesses. “Kids can really do that?,” she yelled to her mom – an expert at selective listening.
“Sure you can do anything you want to do,” was the response. Then Alison went back to cooking dinner.
(Somehow, I don’t think this Anderson mom who loved the idea of finding opportunities to teach her girls life lessons had any idea of what she was committing to.)
Coincidentally, Amy and Emma had just come home from a ‘food as gifts’ themed camp with a jar of dry ingredients – everything needed to make soft and chewy cookies, their favorite thing to do when they wanted to spend quality mom-daughter time together.
It was that simple. They would have a nonprofit organization that would provide moms who are down on their luck with all of the ingredients necessary to bake homemade cookies with their children, starting with the residents at Bethany House. Sure, cookies may not be the most nutritious food on the chain but that wasn’t really what this was about. It was about giving parents and children a feel good activity, one where they’d talk and laugh and bond with each other just as Amy, Emma and Alison do.
First things first. Alison, who had no idea what it even meant to be called 501C3 had to do a quick study – on vacation – and, within eight months they were approved.
They needed to come up with a recipe that didn’t include vanilla extract (because it is expensive) and so there was a lot of experimenting – and taste testing. (lots of taste testing) They contacted their church to use its health department approved space. They held fundraisers, applied for grants and got donations. And they recruited volunteers and board members.
The girls wrote this on their website…”This pile of goodies made us realize that they were going to need something to carry all this stuff out of the shelter and into their new home, hence the introduction of the tote bag and the new name for our program! We knew our families would face one last obstacle when baking their cookies, the cost of the stick of butter and two eggs needed to complete their mix. We knew from our years of volunteer work at The Bethany House that many families moved into their new homes with little or no grocery money. We didn’t want money to keep them from baking our cookies while celebrating this happy time together, so we decided our Tote Bag needed one more thing, a Kroger grocery store gift card. Our $20 gift card allows them to get their butter eggs, and a few other essential items. We always suggest milk to go with their cookies!”
Today Bake Me Home also includes –
Bake Me Home Family Portrait Program that provides a free 5×7 portrait to families at food pantries and shelters through the area.
Bake Me BACK Home Program where, for a $30 donation, two dozen cookies are sent to a military member overseas and proceeds benefit the rest of the organization’s work.
Bake Me Home Awards recognizing other kids’ for doing community service.
The girls are the idea generators and help with every facet of the organization, including overseeing the financial statements. Alison laughed when she told me about how Emma had grilled her for spending an additional $30 on 1000 tote bags.
I asked Amy and Emma what they like most about Bake Me Home. “It’s all the things we learn. When we first started, mom used words we didn’t know like ‘fiscal’. I always thought it should be ‘physical,’” said Amy.
“It makes me feel good and helpful because I’m pretty sure not many kids have started a charity. Being a board member is really cool because I always thought you had to be an adult. We’re crossing our fingers that we can be Co-President of Bake Me Home one day,” said Emma.
I actually know the girls get a whole lot more out of it than just learning about economics, although that is a very important lesson.
“I feel that everybody needs to help out just a little,” Emma told me.
Yes, Emma, you’re absolutely right. We all can learn from your lesson.