Saturday, November 21, 2009

Giving Thanks One Sugar Cookie (and House) at a Time

I love the renowned food blogger Terry of Blue Kitchen. I e-mailed him at the beginning of my humble little baking blog waaaaaaaay back in February 2008 (doesn't sound that long ago to me) and he gave me great advice on the same night I e-mailed, even told me he had lived in St. Louis for awhile. I was smitten! What a terrifically generous and kind blogger, I thought. Then, I discovered Terry's endorsement of a fantastic nonprofit organization, Drop In and Decorate. I thought, what a really generous and kind blogger, and then I began to drool at two of my favorite things combined into one artful, cheerful place: community action and baking. Terry's link to Drop In and Decorate planted a seed in my mind: I wonder if my students would be interested in such a project... ? The answer: YES!

At the community college where I teach part-time, there's a terrific service learning coordinator there by the name of Donna Halsband. Donna supports and promotes all things service learning. She too is generous, kind and really helpful. For those who are new to service learning, let me briefly explain what it is all about. Service learning asks students to determine a problem in their community, brainstorm ways to influence or change that problem, and to do hands-on service projects to address the problems they've highlighted and then to reflect on what they've learned in the process.

To me, service learning is what education is meant to do: instill courage, creativity and compassion in the community at-large, connect students to the bigger picture, and remind others that inaction doesn't have to be our default setting. We can truly get up, stand up each and every day, in small and big ways.

This semester, my interdisciplinary class, IDS 101, at St. Louis Community College identified two problems in our community of St. Louis, Missouri: affordable housing and curbing (heck, eliminating!) domestic violence. As a result we've completed two service-learning projects that I'm incredibly proud of: a Drop In and Decorate sugar-cookie-baking-and-decorating extravaganza for Safe Connections, a St. Louis organization that empowers women and teens who have experienced sexual and physical abuse, and an all-day Habitat for Humanity build in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood.

I also have to give HUGE shout-outs to my amazing and generous friend Nicole Hunt and Holly Cunningham, owner of Hollyberry Baking Company. My students kept gushing about how cool it was to bake in a real, honest-to-goodness commercial bakery. I couldn't agree more, and I'm so happy (and thankful) that you let us "borrow" your kitchen last Sunday. Thank you!

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to give a huge shout-out to my students: Adam, Adrienne, Alex H., Alex M., Amber, Brett, Caitlin, Chinara, Ed, Inam, Jessica, John, Kristin, Kris, Leyda, Liz, Randi, Ryan and Sean. You baked a 100 cookies a week ago. You helped a mother and daughter put the finishing touches on their new home in mid-October. The tulip tree you planted will shade their home for years to come.

Every Monday and Wednesday night I'm grateful for the time I spend with you and the lessons I take away from your personal stories and experiences.

Maybe sugar cookies and tulip trees don't solve the big problems (global warming, poverty, violence, injustice), but I think these things are a step in the right direction. There's something intensely satisfying knowing that our hands and bodies (and minds) can effect change.

So, on that note, work it!

Hugs and high fives,

P.S. If you'd like to know the recipe for the sugar cookies we baked last Sunday, click here. Same goes for the royal icing.


Lydia said...

Fantastic! Congrats to you and your students for hosting a wonderful Drop In & Decorate event, and thank you for such a beautiful post about it. You are part of a large nationwide effort to spread cookie love to agencies serving neighbors in need in communities all around the country.

Kella said...

Thanks, Lydia! We loved hosting our Drop In & Decorate event (and we're big fans of what you're doing out east). The Midwest should be hopping in these events too.


Sarah day said...

Oh Kella that made me teary. You are heartwearming to so many folks.

Sarah d.

Lydia said...

Kella, these events are happening all across the country, and you're part of that! I've tried to find a way to contact you to ask if you will share your photos and story on our web site, but can't find an email address. Please write to me (lydia AT ninecooks DOT com).

Kella said...

Sarah, you're too sweet. Jenna says hey. We love you!

Lydia, I'm going to e-mail you right now. Thanks so much for your interest. We love your organization, and we're so happy to be a small part of it. High fives to you for your awesomeness.