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Last year the financial website 24/7 Wall St. declared the Waterloo–Cedar Falls, Iowa, area America’s worst place for African Americans to live. White people there have higher employment and earn almost twice as much as blacks, who have less education and higher arrest rates. Sarah Helleso, 25, is a member of Orchard Hill Church in Cedar Falls. She said residents have noticed the divide for a long time: “There are people in Cedar Falls who won’t go to Waterloo, and then people in Waterloo who have no interest in going to Cedar Falls.”
In 2013, Orchard Hill Church partnered with Harvest Vineyard Church in Waterloo to create a community development organization to serve downtown Waterloo. Out of that came a social enterprise, Try Pie. It’s a bakery that employs 13 high-school girls—some black, some white, some Asian—from Waterloo and Cedar Falls. After school the girls come to the downtown Waterloo bakery, leave their stuff in cubbies, and gather by the office to read a Bible verse and pray. They then put on hairnets and aprons. Large windows take up two of the kitchen’s walls, so people passing on the street can see the girls starting to bake.
Inside, all smells like flour and crust, and the counters and floor are spotted with flour and squished blueberries. The girls laugh and chat as they work, mixing ingredients or rolling out dough on the stainless steel counters. They develop friendships, learn about financial responsibility, and gain job skills.
One of the first bakers was Aquayla Lumpkin. She worked there for a year and a half while learning budgeting skills with her mentor. She set up a savings account before she left for college to study criminal justice. When her car later broke down, she was able to pay for the repairs because of her savings account. Now Lumpkin is a Try Pie staff member. She helps the girls participate in community projects like planting flowers—a simple act but a symbol of hope. The same goes for baking pies: no advanced degrees required.