Kelsey Dunn works for the Next Move Program, a nonprofit that provides job training and supported employment for young adults with developmental disabilities. Together with former Top 40 under 40 winner Elizabeth Redford, Dunn opened the doors to Tablespoons Bakery’s first brick-and-mortar location at 1707 Westover Hills Blvd. The pair rented an old parish house and kitchen space from Westover Hills United Methodist Church, converting it into the bakery’s location, where bakers will mentor students from local school districts during internship experiences.
Dunn is also gathering data that could help future generations. A native of Northern Virginia, she is a doctoral candidate at VCU pursuing a Ph.D. in special education and disability policy, with her dissertation focusing on improving interview skills for youths with autism. Dunn explains that she started out as a high school public special education teacher in Williamsburg before realizing there wasn’t much available for her students after graduation (nationally, 80% of students with disabilities sit at home after they graduate, she says, the number drops to around 70% in Virginia). “It’s a really stark outcome, you want the best for them, but there aren’t a lot of supports in place,” she says. Dunn notes that thanks to the pandemic, many people now know what it feels like to sit at home feeling disconnected -- and she loves that Tablespoons allows people to gather and socialize while learning employment skills.
“I wish that more people walked into any business expecting them to be an inclusive operation,” she says, adding that they are currently trying to get the word out about Tablespoons so more people can visit. As she explains it, students will spend part of the day in the bakery and customers can come meet the bakers, who will be mentoring in an inclusive environment, all while enjoying coffee from Ironclad Roasters or maybe an oatmeal cream pie. The bakery is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.
“There is nothing more magical then watching our bakers become confident in their abilities both baking and selling our cookies and other baked goods,” she says. Dunn is hoping to graduate from VCU in December and possibly publish her research with some of the data coming from Tablespoons.