WASHINGTON, D.C. — Before the crack of dawn, something’s on the rise inside the kitchen of Mission Muffins.
“We teach work skills, in this case, specifically, baking skills,” said Tony Casson.
Mission Muffins is a working bakery carved out of a former exercise room inside Central Union Mission, a homeless shelter in the nation’s capital.
When we visited, Casson was supervising, watching Jerry Gill tackle all forms of baked goods from muffins to scones and beyond.
“The goal of all of them is just to lift guys up and propel them beyond where they have spent a lot of their lives,” Casson said. “In Jerry's case, he was incarcerated 42 years.”
Mission Muffins is one of several workforce development programs at the shelter. Yet, it is about more than just acquiring a new job skill.
“Part of what we try to do is create the whole person approach to getting them back in the workforce by dealing with their legal issues, getting them clean and sober, if they're struggling with addiction issues, making sure that they know how to come into the workplace in an appropriate way, that's going to ensure their success,” said Central Union Mission Director Joe Mettimano.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on any given night, there are more than 560,000 people who are homeless in America. Only 25% of them have a job.
“Mission Muffins kind of allows them to test out the skills that they would apply in the real world, real employers,” said Cheryl Cook Posley, who heads the Mission’s Workforce Development Program, "so that once they get there, they've had a safe place to kind of make mistakes,”
The real world is waiting right outside. After the pandemic forced its closure, Mission Muffins recently reopened its food trailer.
Every morning, they sell their culinary creations and bring in revenue to keep the program going, even shipping and selling their products nationwide.
For many there, the program is so much more than just a job.
“It gave me a purpose,” said Richard Albee. “I mean, if it wasn't for Mission Muffins, I wouldn't be here. I would have probably been back out there again somewhere.”
Mohammed Hossain said the program offered something he had never had in a job before.
“Mission Muffins was the first job giving me an opportunity to express myself, be myself,” Hossain said.
For Tony Casson, it’s all part of the package.
“I always try and impress upon the guys that no matter what we do in life, always exceed expectations,” Casson said. “So, when they bite into one of our things, they go, ‘Wow, this is really good.'”
It has been a delicious way for many to find a new direction.