In honor of Women's History Month, we bring you a slice of the new Bake and Chat after-school program, which brings together a small group of girls, 12-17, on Tuesdays to bake something delicious and discuss a topic affecting young women, such as healthy relationships and communications.
On this particular afternoon, the team is baking a Victorian strawberry chocolate cake, chosen by two of the girls who are also sisters. Some of the bakers are regular group participants and others are new.
A game of telephone breaks the ice.
Before they cream the butter, slice strawberries, and whip icing, they break the ice with a game of telephone. Claudia Diaz, youth developer, whispers, "Shelly sells seashells by the seashore," into the ear of 16-year-old Jalysa whose smile turns to a frown as she struggles to remember the tongue twister. The game only becomes more challenging as some of the girls, who are learning English, whisper an ever more succinct version of the message to the next girl. Giggles, head scratching, and "what?" are all present.
The game gives way to a review of the group's ground rules, which are displayed on the walls in English and Spanish.
The girls then draw names to form prep groups, one for the batter, one for the frosting, and one for the chocolate icing. Group dynamics quickly emerge and personalities come out to play. Some girls decide they don't like their group and abandon the activity, leaving some groups with one member. Yet, the core group of girls, five of them who week after week come out to bake, find their groove and finish the recipe components; but not before a couple of do-overs from using granulated sugar instead of confectioner's sugar, and measuring by volume instead of weight.
The girls present their Victoria strawberry chocolate cake.
While the cake bakes in the oven, the frosting sets, and the chocolate icing cools, the group sits down for a chat. On this day, the group leaders decide to review what worked and didn't work in the kitchen.
Jalysa points out that some of the girls were on their phones and not present in the activity, "It was disrespectful" she says. "It all worked out when just those of us that wanted to be there were left."
Twelve-year-old Cindy, who rushes to Bake and Chat after soccer practice, said, "We have to communicate better and be more careful with the instructions."
The conversation turns to what the girls like about the Bake and Chat group, which meets in the Teen Center, where mostly young men meet to play video games, pool, foosball, and lift weights.
Moesha, 17, shares, "I don't like girls that much, but this group changes my perception. I can talk to you all."
The smell of chocolate cake fills the air, signaling the end of the chat session and the time to take the cake out of the oven to cool, frost, and devour.
Every week, the girls take turns finding a recipe for a cake, cookies, or other pastry. Although, by the end of the afternoon, most girls were campaigning for a savory dish.