Students tour the LI Bakery that empowers employees with special needs

SAG HARBOR, NY – It was a lesson in celebrating diversity and inclusion recently when Pierson High School special education students met the owner of South Fork Bakery, whose mission is to provide meaningful employment for people with special needs.

On Tuesday, the students met with Shirley Ruch, the owner of the business, as well as some of the employees.

South Fork Bakery, which operates out of Scoville Hall in Amagansett, was founded on the need to create meaningful employment opportunities for adults with disabilities in the South Fork, according to Ruch.

Ruch, a practicing speech-language pathologist for more than 30 years with a private practice in Sag Harbor, specializes in working with children with autism. When Ruch realized that many of his former students, after graduating from college or finishing high school, faced a common problem of finding employment, he founded South Fork Bakery in 2016. In 2018, the bakery became a non-profit organization. profit.

“South Fork Bakery also provides job skills training and support to build independence and confidence. Just as important, we provide a place where everyone feels welcome, valuable, capable and happy among friends,” she told Patch in an interview. previous. “We are proud to say that our employees have taken these skills and landed employment in the restaurant industry. As the only business in the East End that employs and trains adults with developmental disabilities including autism, autism spectrum, learning disabilities, and Down syndrome, South Fork Bakery directly changes lives.”

The students who met with Ruch this week saw broadened horizons, all agreed.

“The students were incredibly excited about this trip,” explained Tracy Evans, trip supervisor and Sag Harbor District Occupational Therapist. “This was a wonderful opportunity for our students to meet and observe other young adults living with special needs and how they have found success and happiness working in an environment that supports and celebrates their differences.”

The students embarked on a private tour of the packing room, kitchen, and warehouse led by Ruch.

During the tour, Ruch explained the process of making the delicious baked goods, as well as the mission and purpose of South Fork Bakery.

Currently, there are 16 adults with special needs who have found a community at the South Fork Bakery, including a Pierson alumnus who has been at the bakery since day one, he said. The bakery supplies its products to more than 50 local shops, farm stands, farmer’s markets and festivals from Montauk to Syosset.

Students asked questions and took a “snack break” with chocolate brownies, mint brownies, and blondies provided by Ruch.

“I think as a result of this trip, the students felt a sense of belonging, and maybe a sense of worth,” Evans said.

Sag Harbor UFSD special education teachers Megan Pastier and Justin Clinton, teaching assistants Erin White and Kendell Thommen, and physical therapist Megan Lui worked with Evans to organize the field trip.

“Thanks to Ruch, the field trip gave students a glimpse into an environment where they could see others feel respected for who they are and valued for their contributions,” the district said.

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