What do bread and a path to success for women have in common?

For a group of bakers in New York, the answer is a whole lot.

First, take a minute to feast your eyes on these delicious creations:


YUM! All photos taken by Evan Sung, used with permission from Hot Bread Kitchen.

And these:

Or how about these little pieces of heaven?

Now that you're thinking about delicious, warm bread, let's get to the reason I'm torturing you with baked goodness: Hot Bread Kitchen.

Hot Bread Kitchen's almacén location, where those delicious bread items are sold.

Hot Bread Kitchen is a New York City-based bakery, and so much more... It gives foreign-born and low-income women a real opportunity to build a secure future.

Here's how it works: The bakery raises money for training programs by selling multiethnic breads — like Armenian lavash, Mexican nixtamal tortillas, Moroccan m'smen, Persian flatbreads, and Bangladeshi chapati — that are inspired by the women it serves.

(Even better: They don't use any chemical preservatives, colors, or flavors, and they source locally grown produce and grains. Double win!)

Jessamyn Rodriguez, CEO and founder of Hot Bread Kitchen, explains: "We help women who have skill and passion around the culinary arts become successful in the baking industry."

The delicious byproduct? "A line of multi-ethnic breads that we sell to help pay for a high quality training that includes math, English, and job skills."

Rodriguez told me that they're basically the United Nations of bread! (I love that.)


It might be hard to picture a bakery changing lives. But it has.

Take Altea, for instance. (Name has been changed to protect her privacy.)

Rodriguez shared her story with me: In 2011, Altea's dream came true. She won the green card lottery and migrated from Albania to America. In New York City, Altea found a job as a childcare provider for an Albanian family. But she wasn't making much money and she felt isolated. She wanted more opportunities for her future, but she didn't know how to get them.

A Hot Bread Kitchen graduate told Altea about the paid training program, and she started in 2013. Before long, she was a pro at mixing and shaping dough.

But she still wasn't fluent in English and faced an uphill battle as a result. She didn't let that stop her, though. Altea kept learning and soon was working on the commercial ovens where, Rodriguez said, "her true talents shined. It is one of the most difficult tasks in the bakery."

Altea's full-time position at Hot Bread Kitchen allowed her to earn 35% more money than her previous job, plus she gained healthcare, paid vacations, and other benefits.

In 2014, Altea was offered a full-time position as a shift manager at Hot Bread Kitchen, "earning 35% more than her job in childcare with paid vacations, healthcare, and other benefits," Rodriquez said.

Altea's hard work paid off. Today, she's a lead baker at Hot Bread Kitchen. She trains other bakers on the ovens, all while devoting time and energy outside work to developing her English skills.

"I am thankful for Hot Bread Kitchen for learning how to speak English and to work at a job I love," says Altea.

A baker working in Hot Bread Kitchen.

Graduates of Hot Bread Kitchen's training program work at bakeries all over New York City — "changing the face of a male-dominated industry," says Rodriguez. And, she adds, "We get excited sharing the traditional bread recipes from around the world that many New Yorkers haven't had the opportunity to taste."

Just last month, Hot Bread Kitchen earned a game-changing opportunity: a mentorship with JetBlue airlines.

Called "BlueBud," the JetBlue initiative is designed to foster relationships with environmentally and socially responsible food companies and start-ups.

The goal is for Hot Bread Kitchen to learn how to become a supplier for large commercial companies — like airlines. To accomplish that, JetBlue offers tours of catering centers, speaking and taste-testing opportunities so that JetBlue employees and customers can become familiar with Hot Bread Kitchen. And the bakery will have access to JetBlue so that they can learn everything they need to know about becoming a vendor.

Rodriguez told me that for a growing social enterprise, it's a tremendous opportunity. "We are hopeful that access to JetBlue's audience will allow more people to hear the stories of the women who we train and increase awareness of all of the incredible multiethnic bread offerings that New Yorkers might miss out on if organizations like ours didn't exist," she explains.

For Hot Bread Kitchen, the mentorship opportunity could open so many doors for women just like Altea.


I asked Rodriguez where she hopes her organization will be in five years.

"I see New York City as the proof of concept — we have, over the last five years, proven that there is a market for our mission-driven company," she explained. Now, she wants to replicate the model all across the country. "Our partnership with JetBlue is synonymous with our hope to travel beyond our New York roots to prove that our business can impact the livelihood and prosperity of women in many geographies."

I hope it does just that!

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

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Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

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Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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