Arc bakery cooks up success

The cookies were still warm, as were the pastries - fresh out of the oven, in fact. And the coffee was just brewed and piping hot.

Just the way a grand opening for a new bakery should be, with fresh pastries and customers eager to oblige in the culinary confections.

But this wasn't a commercial bakery opening to the public. Instead, it was the official opening on Thursday for the Arc of New London County's new general store and bakery in Groton, just behind the Sacred Heart School.

The store and bakery are located on the first floor of the Arc's Thomas J. Sullivan Employment Transition Center at 52 Sacred Heart Drive. It's worth the visit, with hours from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily; you can grab a cup of coffee or baked goods, or browse through the jewelry, clothing items, greeting cards and crafts.

The store and bakery, managed by Allan Selserman under the leadership of employment director Kim Blair, is a hands-on, five-days-a-week training ground for those with intellectual and related developmental disabilities. Selserman and Blair work with participants from the Arc of New London County (www.thearcnlc.org), ringing up sales, selling the pastries, restocking the coffee urns.

It's a great experience for all, says Kathleen Stauffer, who is the executive director of the Norwich-based agency. The Arc of New London County provides its services to nearly 600 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and vocational training like that being offered at the bakery and general store is an important mission for the agency.

The Arc of New London County was founded in 1952, by families looking for better opportunities for their children. Since then, the organization has grown, and today offers life-skills training, employment opportunities, and recreational and other community-based services.

Stauffer says her organization offers vocational and culinary training, along with educational skills, for various retailing settings. Among the employers who participate in the organization's vocational programs are the local ShopRite supermarkets, the Naval Submarine Base in Groton and the Mohegan Sun, says Stauffer.

During this past week's grand-opening festivities, Arc officials and board members, along with legislators Andrea Stillman, Betsy Ritter and Elissa Wright were on hand, enjoying a cup of coffee and admiring some of the crafts made by those participating in Arc programs. The apple turnovers were a big hit, and several batches were required from the upstairs ovens to meet the morning demand. (The Arc's website offers a free coupon for a turnover - it's worth printing it out.) Box lunches, as well, were for sale and they, too, went quickly.

In addition to the pastries and other goods found at the vocational-training store, it also offers catering, from continental breakfasts to boxed lunches, platters and even cookies by the platter.

Upstairs from the first-floor bakery in the Sullivan employment center, there are training areas where participants can learn computer skills, and a resource library, training room and even an industrial kitchen - "it's a good training ground for people who want to go into culinary," says Stauffer.

The goal of the Arc's various vocational and skills-building programs, says Stauffer, is to work toward "optimal independence." These skills, she says, are crucial, especially during an economic downturn. "People with disabilities are no different than you or me in the desire to seek fulfilling employment," she says.

Anthony Cronin is The Day's business editor.

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