To help troubled boys prepare for the future, Geri Winge puts them to work in the kitchen.
Winge and Dave Carlsen are co-instructors of the student-run bakery at the Rabiner Treatment Center. The Rocket Bakery and Cafe is located in the center's sports complex and offers a range of products, from four types of breads to rolls, cookies and sweets, to meals such as calzones and nachos.
Winge is also vocational coordinator for Rabiner. This program has many facets, she said, including the bakery and the Youth Build program. It helps students get work experience off-campus.
"We try to give them a really well-rounded experience on the vocational end so that looking at the transitional needs, when they graduate, they can put this stuff on their resume," Winge said.
Winge, originally from South Dakota, now lives in Fort Dodge. She has been with Rabiner for seven years, and said it's a good fit.
"All my adult life, in South Dakota and here, I've always worked with behaviors. Either developmentally disabled, or behaviors in home, or whatever," she said. "When I switched to education this was a perfect place.
"I remember in my interview he was telling me about it, and I said it's got everything. The students' emotional needs are taken care of, their housing needs are taken care of, their academic needs. It's just a holistic approach."
Winge and Carlsen started the Rocket Bakery in the summer of 2010. It began with a discussion about having the kids make bread.
"That was our first product, and that was going to be our signature product. From there, somebody asked for cinnamon rolls, and we went from there," Winge said.
Winge teaches two classes in the bakery every day, and Carlsen two more. This means there's someone running the bakery pretty much all day long, she said.
Students at Rabiner can earn "Dough Dollars" for good behavior or doing well in class and redeem them for treats from the bakery.
The bakery also gets orders from off-campus, and sometimes provides food for fundraisers.
The bakery experience teaches responsibility, business sense, and a host of other skills.
"It's all hands-on, pretty much. We incorporate math, science, reading. They have to be able to read to comprehend the recipes. They do research and development," she said.
"All our recipes are made from scratch," Winge said. "Our whole goal is to keep everything from scratch. It is much more cost-effective to do that, and if you get a basic supply of ingredients in your house, you can bake anything you want."
This gives the kids a chance to develop their own recipes, she said. One student researched frosting recipes and went through five or six different varieties to find one with the right flavor and texture for the class to use.
The students also do market research on their products.
"They'll take samples out to different places on campus, and get an idea if this is something that can sell or not," Winge said.
"Before we produce them in a mass quantity, they have to go through the cost-effectiveness, to see if they are something we can produce and come up with a profit. Mr. Dave's business class does the cost analysis. And they have to decide how much of a profit margin we need for the product."
Carlsen said, "We've gone together and weighed how much a cup of flour is, and how much a cup of flour would end up costing if you buy a five-pound bag or a 20-pound bag. Then they have a spreadsheet set up, where you just enter the ingredients and it will calculate the cost of that product."
That first year, it was Rabiner students who did most of the renovating work to turn the room into a kitchen and dining area, Winge said. Later, web design students created the fliers for the bakery.
"Basically, all the classes in the school have been involved in some way or another," Carlsen said.
Winge said the kids usually have no trouble following the ground rules and working together. They're happy to be in the class.
"I think it's just our energy and our excitement," she said. "We have very few behavior problems. They just come in ready to work."