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Utah bakery offers workers a second chance to flourish

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – For those trying to overcome addiction, or who are just being released from incarceration, the transition to a normal life can be really difficult.

But, there are programs out there that can help people overcome those obstacles.

One of them is called Flourish Bakery. Its mission is to do exactly as the name suggests for those it employs.

It does that by providing crucial skills to help stop the vicious cycle of relapse and recidivism.

At the Salt Lake Community College South City Campus students are full of big dreams as they lay the foundation for the future.

On campus sits a commercial kitchen where hopes are just as high, but here the goal is making the most of a second chance after learning lessons at the school of hard knocks.

AJ Collette got caught up on drugs and the gang life as a teenager.

“My life consisted of running around on the street, having no responsibility, avoiding my family and being violent,” said Collette.

Erica Soucie lost control due to a drug addiction.

“After I lost my kids I really fell hard and I became homeless. I was living on the streets of Salt Lake, at the shelter, couldn’t get my life on track,” said Soucie.

Freddy Jackson also knows the grip of addiction. He says he used to work hard during the week to keep things together, only to destroy it all on the weekend.

“That led to despair and loneliness and it spiraled me into this black hole,” said Jackson.

Local leaders with the Drug Enforcement Agency have declared it an epidemic in our state.

In 2016, there were 466 opioid-related overdose deaths in Utah, well above the national average.

At some point Collette, Soucie, and Jackson all decided, in their own way, they didn’t want to become the next statistic.

“It came down to either my daughter, my child or me. And, I realized my family wasn’t going to choose me, they were going to choose my child and I commend them for that, but it was that awe-ha moment for me where I was like, look, if I don’t do something to change my life I’m never going to change,” said Collette.

For all of them, the road to recovery lead to Flourish Bakery, a local nonprofit funded by donations, fundraisers, and grants.

“We do job skills and life skills training, meaning you learn on the job, professional baking and pastry in a 12-month training program. And, it’s a paid training program, which is what makes it so unusual,” said Aimee Altizer, executive director.

The application process is intense. It requires prospective participants to prove why they want to be there.

They also have to show they are work ready, meaning they have housing, transportation, and childcare all in place.

Just like the recipes, they bake to perfection, every single step of the program must be followed meticulously.

Miss one ingredient and it falls flat.

“An individual who joins us here has the opportunity to build a full life in recovery to support an individual, so you are not slipping back into old community, old relationships, old habits,” said Altizer.

Participants are all in various stages of the program.

Jackson is halfway through. He admits he may not be the best baker, but he says he is turning up the heat to refine the best version of himself.

“I haven’t had those thoughts where anything is possible for a really long time, and right now I’m in that space where I think that my future has limitless possibilities if I do one thing, that’s keep sober,” Jackson said.

Collette is a graduate and is now working as a manager.

He says there is no doubt he has left the past behind and has flourished in a new life.

One in which brings a lot of firsts, but none more important than being a family man.

“Moved into my first apartment with my wife last year, and now we are in a house. Had a baby, and I’m able to show up for my child today,” said Collette.

Soucie is just graduating from the program. She has been working at Deer Valley and is celebrating two years of being sober.

As she begins the next chapter she looks forward to her opportunity to flourish.

“I have a really good sober support community, I have amazing friends that I have met here, so my life has made a dramatic change.”

And, she hopes there’s even more dramatic change to come.

“I’m happy, I’m healthy and hopefully one day I’ll see my kids again,” Soucie said.

They will be rolling out a food truck this summer and also have plans to open up the Flourish Cafe.

The goal is to be self-sustainable within the next four years.

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