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Middle school entrepreneurs sell their sweet creations at Breaktime Bakery

Eric Schalk teaches kids job readiness and moral character by having them cook and sell pastries in the Creston neighborhood.

Breaktime Bakery Info


Mon. - Thurs. 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.



Fourth Reformed Church

1226 Union Ave SE

Grand Rapids, MI 49505


Check out the pastries available at the Bakery.

Eric Schalk, director of Breaktime Bakery.

Eric Schalk, director of Breaktime Bakery. /Photo by Michael Walton

Some baked goods made by the kids of Breaktime Bakery.

Some baked goods made by the kids of Breaktime Bakery. /Photo by Michael Walton

Kids purchase baked goods from other kids at Breaktime Bakery.

Kids purchase baked goods from other kids at Breaktime Bakery. /Photo by Michael Walton

The Fourth Reformed Church kitchen is busy with tiny hands during the morning Monday through Thursday. The middle school entrepreneurs of Breaktime Bakery are hard at work mixing and measuring to make delicious pastries. They're led by Eric Schalk, the director of New City Neighbors' Breaktime Bakery and its sister program Breaktime. He gave up culinary art to pursue youth ministry, but Breaktime Bakery combines his passion for God, kids and the culinary art form.

Schalk spent a semester studying culinary art at Grand Rapids Community College. While taking classes, he got a job at Fourth Reformed Church doing youth ministry. He says this position made him realize that youth ministry was his true passion and calling.

"I really felt called to do that," Schalk says."So, I left culinary arts behind and enrolled in a youth ministry program."

Schalk has been doing youth work for the past 16 years and has stayed at Fourth Reformed Church. Schalk says that the community and the church mean more to him than just a job. When he and his wife began working in the neighborhood, they made a conscious decision to become invested in the community. They live three blocks from the church and their kids go to the local schools.

"We are working with neighbors as much as we possibly can," Schalk says. "So it's not just work, it's really life."

The bakery evolved from Breaktime, a day camp that New City Neighbors has been running for 14 years. Breaktime originally included 2nd through 8th graders, but the middle school portion was "spun off" into the bakery in 2006. While Breaktime encompassed a wide age range of kids, the Bakery specifically focuses on middle schoolers.

Schalk says that it was a big leap of faith, but they've gotten a lot of positive reactions from the kids.

Breaktime Bakery puts the kids in charge of the cooking, cleaning and selling. Every one of the kids helps bake from 9:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The later jobs like cleaning and managing the store tend to rotate. Schalk says the kids have a lot of fun with the program and many come back year after year. They have, however, had the occasional kid who has been less than enthusiastic about working, he says.

"We have had kids over the years who have not enjoyed it at all," says Schalk. "Because it is work, at the end of the day."

These kids will enter high school in a few years, and many will need to find a job. Schalk says this program will give them a leg up on the competition. The kids gain marketable skills like money handling and customer service. Schalk also tries to include additional tools for job savviness.

"Like yesterday I had them fill out an application," Schalk says. "Even though they're all 'in' already, I had them fill out more of a formal application just to get a feel for what that's like."

The young bakery workers are "paid" in points that can be redeemed immediately for cookies and brownies, but if kids save up their points they can earn bigger prizes like gift cards and even Tigers tickets. Schalk says that this is to teach kids that they can save up for something much more valuable if they resist instant gratification.

"We've had kids in the past save tons of points up and get lots of gift cards at the end of the summer," says Schalk. "And other kids, they blow it as soon as they get it. They can't hang on to it. They're kids."

Schalk say that Breaktime Bakery has grown significantly since its inception.

"The first couple years of the bakery, it was mostly people who came to Fourth Reformed Church," Schalk says. "But in the last few years, we've had people coming in from all over the place."

Schalk attributes this to good word of mouth, and says that the kids are some of the strongest advocates. The kids get fired up about the bakery and can't resist telling their family and friends about what they do. Schalk says that the sense of pride kids get seeing their hard work enjoyed is a reward in itself.

These little entrepreneurs have even found themselves catering a few weddings with their famous nine-inch cheesecake. Other popular items include jalapeno cheddar bread, honey wheat bread, an English muffin bread that's new this year, cookies, bars and a scone recipe that Schalk has been perfecting over the last five years.

Regardless of how successful the business and food may be, Breaktime Bakery is a Christian ministry at its core. Schalk says bringing God into the bakery's operations is an integral part, and he leads daily devotions with the kids. This year they're focusing on Fruits of the Spirit and what it means to embrace virtues like kindness, patience and joy.

"Kid's might mess up. And even blow up. At a normal job you might get fired for some of the things they do," says Schalk. "Here, we're trying to help them see that the way they're responding is probably not the best way, and then help them get to the bottom of why they're responding that way."

Schalk keeps an eye out for teachable moments while they're cooking and provides one-on-one counseling to kids that need it. He says some of the kids don't have a stable life at home. One of the reason Schalk feels compelled to help is because he's been through something similar.

"Working with at-risk kids has always been a big deal, in part because I grew up slightly at-risk," Schalk says.

Schalk pushes himself to connect with kids in the community. He feels his experience as an at-risk youth helps him connect with kids who are going through difficult times.

Breaktime Bakery runs out of Fourth Reformed Church at 1226 Union SE. They're open Monday through Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Check Breaktime Bakery's website for a detailed menu.

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