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REACH program bakes cookies for GCHA residents

Josh Lunde (left), from Morris and a senior in the REACH Program, and Zach Welch, of Channahon and a junior in the REACH Program, carry jars of cookies Monday to be taken to the Grundy County Housing Authority.
Josh Lunde (left), from Morris and a senior in the REACH Program, and Zach Welch, of Channahon and a junior in the REACH Program, carry jars of cookies Monday to be taken to the Grundy County Housing Authority.

MINOOKA – Sophomore Christa Stanley dreams of becoming a baker one day, so helping to make more than 100 dozen cookies for the Grundy County Housing Authority residences was great practice for her.

“I want to be a baker. I love to bake,” said Stanley, of Coal City.

Stanley is one of about 25 students in the Realizing Educational and Career Hopes, or REACH, program based at Minooka Community High School that spent about a month baking 127 dozen cookies for the GCHA.

“We are so excited to be able to do this with them,” said Brent Newman, CEO of the GCHA. “It is always great to be able to partner with other community organizations and to benefit our residents at the same time.”

On Monday, staff from the GCHA came to the school to pick up the cookies, which were stored by the dozen in mason jars decorated by students in the REACH Greetings program. Each jar contained a label with the GCHA’s logo and “Happy Holidays” greeting, made through the REACH Greetings workers.

REACH is a program for students with special needs in high school, as well as for those with special needs transitioning out of high school. The REACH Greetings program is a business for stationary and signage that allows the transition students to work on the projects.

This was the first time the REACH students baked so many cookies, and for the GCHA.

“I saw [Newman] at a Special Connections event this summer and he asked if we would be interested in making them,” said Mary Jo Maland, REACH high school teacher.

“It took us about a month. We made them and froze them,” she continued.

The students made five different kinds of cookies: oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar and snickerdoodle. For many of them, taste testing the cookies was their favorite part.

“We had a little extra to taste. I’m glad we are going to give them away because I need to be healthy because I swim for the high school swim team,” said Drew Kirkman of Morris and junior in the REACH program.

The students were counting down to the day they got to give the cookies to the GCHA.

“They loved it. They’ve been anxious for the day to come,” said Kate Ross, REACH program coordinator.

“Today is the day. It’s like Christmas,” she said.

The students took part in every aspect of the project, including the baking, jarring and even carrying the boxes upon boxes to the GCHA’s vehicle.

REACH junior Timmy Tobin of Morris did some of the heavy lifting to pack the car full of cookies.

“Enjoy the 127 dozen cookies,” he said as the GCHA staff got ready to leave.

Annually the REACH students try to do a project to give back to the community, Maland said, so they jumped on the opportunity to bake for the seniors living in GCHA properties.

“We thought this was a major way to give back,” she said. “They do bake sales, but never a whole 120-some dozen before. They were very cooperative. We had an assembly line going.”

Many of the students said they knew the recipients were going to love their cookies. Stanley was pretty certain of it.

“They are probably going to go, ‘Yum!’ ” she said.

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