Lauren Markus, a current junior at Newbury Park High School, wanted to make a difference in the lives of foster children. Her passions for both baking and working with children effortlessly combined to spur the inspiration for her Gold Award project: Baking and Bonding.
“I have so many fond memories of baking with my parents,” Lauren said. “I read several books about outlining the difficulties of a foster kid’s life, one of which is often feeling uncomfortable with their newest family or home since they have to move so often. Baking and Bonding uses the joy of baking to create common ground between kids and their foster parents so that they have a hobby to do together.”
On any given day, there may be over 440,000 children in foster care in the United States. A majority of children are placed in relative or non-relative foster homes, while only around 4% are adopted each year. Children can be moved from home to home sometimes as often as every few months, creating an environment of instability and uncertainty. To help children bond with their foster parents and lessen some of this anxiety, Lauren worked with foster families in her community to teach them the basics of baking.
“Having an important connection with their family can create a sense of permanence in a frequently impermanent life,” Lauren said. “Besides creating a lasting bond in a foster family, the Baking and Bonding classes helped to develop important life skills for the foster kids.”
Lauren teamed up with a local foster organization, Child Hope Services, to connect with families interested in taking her classes. She held two bake sales to fundraise for her classes, and with the addition of donations from members of her community, she was able to purchase all of the necessary ingredients as well as aprons for the students. More expensive materials, such as electric mixers, were lent by members of her Girl Scout troop. She recruited her peers to help teach the classes and created flyers and a website to advertise.
For each of her six classes, she set up stations for each family to use including their bowls, pans, recipes, and measuring cups, with ingredients ready to be passed out. She taught families how to bake cookies, cupcakes, and other sweet treats along with her team of peers. While their creations were baking and cooling, Lauren led the families through a variety of games focused on working together.
“Not only did they learn to bake and follow a recipe, but they also developed trust, teamwork, and communication skills through group games and activities during each lesson,” she said. “These skills will help the kids develop meaningful relationships throughout their lives and can be used in almost every scenario in their futures.”
Following the classes, Lauren asked attendees to fill out surveys about their experience. Their responses illustrated that they were able to learn new skills and enjoyed making memories with their families. “Prior to this experience, I was uncomfortable leading people who are older than me and that I did not know well,” she said. “Confidence is a key part of being a successful leader, as it is needed to provide direction as well as listen to varying ideas within a group. By being able to take suggestions and help a group of people who had never baked before to bake delicious treats, I gained confidence in my abilities as a leader.”
Lauren donated the remainder of her supplies to James Storehouse in Newbury Park, a non-profit organization that fulfills emergency requests to expedite the safe placement of babies and children and to assist aged-out youth as they transition. The owner of the organization agreed to continue a smaller scale of Lauren’s project while she continues to update her website with new recipes.
“Completing my Gold Award project was an experience that I will never forget,” she said. “It has truly impacted me in a way that I never thought would happen. The most important lesson that I gained from this project was learning that I can implement a large project from start to finish, and I don’t need to wait for anyone else to make a difference in the world. Even though the project was a small step in a small part of the world, I knew it made a difference for the families that I met and I knew that I was the one to make that difference. This inspires me to put more of myself in community service and dedicate more of my time in the future to projects like these.”
To learn more about Lauren’s project and check out some of her recipes, visit https://bakingandbonding.weebly.com. For more incredible projects from Girl Scouts in your area, check out our 2019-2020 Girl Scout Gold Awards Yearbook! Find more information about the Gold Award and how Girl Scouts are creating positive change in their communities here.