Laurie is possibly Just Bakery’s most persistent student.  The first two times she enrolled in the program, family emergencies came up and she left in order to deal with the situations.  With an aging mother, three daughters, two grandsons, and relatives in Madison, Laurie is at the center of a family that often demands her care.  When her nephew got in a terrible car accident, she was there to help pick up the pieces.  And when he committed suicide, Laurie dropped out of Just Bakery in order to to help her family heal and put their lives back together.

Now, Laurie is back for the third time, and ready to learn.  Asked what about the program keeps her inspired to continue trying, she replies: “I want to learn.”  Food safety is an important topic for her, and she is intent on attaining the Servsafe Food Manager’s License.  Baker’s math both fascinates and terrifies Laurie; she lists it as the number one challenge in her life—besides the family emergencies, of course.

She also loves baking.  Much of Laurie’s job experience comes from the food service industry, including six years spent working in the kitchen at an assisted living facility.  She worked night shifts, prepping food for breakfast and baking fresh breads for the residents.  Often, the residents would wander around the halls at night, and strike up conversations with Laurie.  The interaction with these clients was Laurie’s favorite aspect of the job; she learned a lot from them as they reminisced about their lives, passing on first-hand memories of history.  One resident was a Holocaust survivor; another had laid down the railroads; and another had helped raise some of America’s first telephone lines.

Laurie’s own story of survival and endurance began when her then-partner assaulted her.  He went to prison, and she was evicted from their apartment, leaving her homeless.  She remained homeless for ten years.  During the winter time, she slept in a tent heated by a propane furnace.  Free meal sites kept her alive and small patches of forest—which have since been cut down—hid her tent from view.  With no income, Laurie could not even afford the clothes to go to a job interview.  She just had to concentrate on surviving each day.

Laurie’s long saga of homelessness finally ended when she signed up with Housing Initiatives, a program that works with the chronically homeless.  Housing Initiatives paid all Laurie’s rent as she searched for a job, and offered free laundry services so that she never had to worry about having clean clothes for an interview.

Although life is looking better for Laurie now, it is still far from easy.  She knows that once she does find a job, half of her paycheck will immediately go to child support.  Much of the remainder will go to paying rent, leaving little for her to try to get ahead.  Plus, getting a job means that her food stamps will be reduced.  But there are other advantages to having a job that can’t be taken out of her paycheck.  Asked why she wants a job, Laurie replies without hesitation: “I want to better myself.”  She hopes that the job will help with her depression, and will set her on the path to getting a drivers license and eventually a car.

In the meantime, we enjoy having Laurie back at Just Bakery.  She is easy to get along with, and raises spirits in the classroom with her quick laugh.

…by Diana G…

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