By Mary McCarty
Staff Writer, Dayton Daily News
Reprinted with permission from the Dayton Daily News
When Jordan Cook was 17, his mother, Diane, died without warning, at age 43, from an aneurysm.
“My world turned upside down,” recalled Cook, now 20. “I had this whole life, with a mom and a little brother and sister, and everybody went here and there and everywhere.”
His younger brother and sister went to live with relatives, and Cook eventually found refuge at Daybreak, the Dayton shelter for homeless youth.
He couldn’t have pictured himself where he is now: as baker, customer service rep and go-to guy at the newly-opened Lindy & Company Gourmet Pet Treats. He’s dreaming of a career in culinary arts, with an education financed through military service.
The storefront at 823 Wayne Avenue opened October 26, 2012 with the ostensible goal of spoiling pets throughout the Miami Valley, with treats such as “Yogurt Lovers Peanutty Puppers,” “Carobean Smoothies,” and “Cheddar Chompers,” rumored to be delicious even for human palates.
But the real mission is job-readiness for kids who may lack the skills they need to keep a job.
In the past, Daybreak staffers took great care to prepare kids for job interviews, making sure they wore the right clothes and knew how to make a proper handshake.
“We were doing something wrong because they got the jobs, but they didn’t last,” observed Daybreak executive director Linda Kramer. “They didn’t have the job skills for a 40-hour job in the workplace.”
That’s what happened to Cook when he got fired from a job he loved after showing up late a couple of times.
“It was horrible, one of those downer moments, like when they play sad songs in the movie,” Cook recalled. “I was messing up. I wasn’t taking things as seriously as I should.”
At Lindy’s, he’s regaining his work ethic and learning new job skills, such as interacting with customers. “I am a lot more mature,” Cook said. “I have a sense that time is slipping away and being 20 is where everything begins.”
Cook enjoys the work: mixing product, weighing it, baking it, putting it in bags. “A normal work day goes by pretty quickly,” he said.
The idea for the pet treats business was born when Kramer observed how much the Daybreak residents enjoyed working with chef Noelle Brown.
“I also read an article that during a recession, one of the businesses that still did well was gourmet pet treats,” Kramer recalled. Two anonymous donors loved the idea, donating a combined $230,000 to start the business, which is named in honor of one of the donor’s Golden Retriever.
Local businesses have offered support. Ashley’s Pastry Shop in Oakwood partnered with Daybreak on the project, allowing the young chefs to test recipes at their facility during off hours.
Like Cook, Brown didn’t envision herself at a place like Daybreak when she graduated from culinary arts college four years ago and she accepted a job at Daybreak. She had something else in common with the young clients for whom she was cooking. “I was homeless,” she said. “I was sleeping on someone’s floor.”
She didn’t tell her employers about her ordeal until it was long over, but it helps to solidify her rapport with the Daybreak kids. Brown now smilingly describes her job as an unofficial hybrid of chef and social worker.
“I’ve become so wrapped up in the cause, that this is where I feel I belong,” Brown said. “When I first met Jordan I found out our moms had both died at an early age, and we talked about that and related.”
Having been homeless herself, she can share her experiences along with the cooking and baking pointers. “I’ve been there,” she said.
Cook echoed that sentiment. “I can relate to her,” he said. “She’s not a giddy person who doesn’t understand what you’ve been through. What’s great is that you gain work experience and work ethic around people you’re comfortable with.”
Without intending to, perhaps, Cook hits upon the phrase that describes the very best, and rarest, of workplaces.
“I’ve found a family,” he said.