Clients Bark, Students Crow over Baked Goods; Treats Bakery Gives Training to Special Young Adults

Article excerpt

Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

Biz Wickenden kneaded dough made of four kinds of cheese, oatmeal, wheat germ, whole wheat flour, fresh eggs and beef bullion.

She already had made numerous four-cheese dog bones that morning with coworkers Britney Watson and Jessica Bartlett. But they needed to make more of the canine biscuit treats.

So as Bartlett poked holes in the ones already formed, Wickenden spread more dough and began rolling it as Watson flattened the edges of it with her hands.

Supervisor Leigh Forrester watched the team effort with a smile.

"Watch out, she's rolling," Forrester said. "She's a roller queen."

"I think it's done," Wickenden said.

"A little bit more on this side - it's looking really good," Forrester said.

"We want to make it even," said another supervisor, Martha Sawyer. "So the biscuits are even."

The four-cheese biscuits are one of many flavors made by Career Frontiers of Northeast Florida students for Bark 'N Howl Bakery, a nonprofit business providing vocational training for young adults with developmental and physical disabilities.

Forrester of Ponte Vedra Beach and Sawyer of Jacksonville incorporated the company last summer and began training students to make the homemade dog treats last month.

The women take turns using their own kitchens as the bakery and supervising sales of the products through the business's Web site, www.barknhowl bakery.com, and at a farmers' market in Jacksonville.

Some customers order from Bark 'N Howl every month, and the students, who range in age from 18 to 35, are learning a variety of skills.

Several area businesses carry free samples of the dog treats to help with marketing, and now the business is looking for a retail location, so students can expand their vocational training opportunities.

Forrester said the year-round program, which has 12 students, is unique. The dog treats are made from fresh ingredients that are edible even by humans. The program is open to young adults with a variety of challenges, including Down syndrome, autism, intellectual disabilities, and visual and hearing impairments. And participants can work there on a flexible, day-by-day basis.

"The ultimate goal is that they will acquire job skills that can be leveraged into wage employment in the community," Forrester said.

The business features dog biscuits in a variety of flavors, sizes and shapes, including carrot cookies, peanut butter paws and minty breath hydrants, which are offered in half-pound or full-pound bags and sold by specific treat or mixed.

For Valentine's Day, they sold peanut butter Valentine-shaped treats.

This month, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, they're featuring clover leaf-shaped treats.

The chefs are learning many different skills through the business, Forrester said. They're learning how to measure ingredients, use a mixer, knead dough and roll it. They're learning how to use cookie cutters and how to operate an oven safely.

After the biscuits come out of the oven and cool, the students use a commercial scale to measure them, then fill bags and label them.

They also make free sample treat bags, available at Oceanside Cleaners in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The students are learning computer sales skills through their Internet business, and take turns selling the canine goodies from 10 a.m. to 4 p. …