Jean Kroll of ILoveSweets, left, and Bobbi Frazes Goldman of Have Dreams described their collaboration Have Dreams with a tin of the shortbread cookies from ILoveSweets, which interns in Have Dreams Academy helped to bake. RoundTable photo

A collaboration between Have Dreams and ILoveSweets, both tenants in the West End business district near Hartrey Avenue and Dempster Street, has proved beneficial to each company. ILoveSweets founder Jean Kroll offered apprenticeships and then jobs to some clients of Have Dreams, who are young adults with autism.

For several years, Ms. Kroll has been supplying not just Evanstonians and Chicagoans but people across the country with tempting oatmeal, chocolate chip and shortbread cookies. She said she moved her company from Foster Street to 1225 Hartrey Ave. two years ago, when “I wanted to make a change from [being] an artisanal baker to being a food manufacturer.”

Ms. Kroll said she was “incredibly short on labor” as she was expanding the business, and she worked with Have Dreams to help create a “manufacturing training program – a workforce solution that provides manufacturing training for young adults with autism.”

The result was the Have Dreams Academy, piloted this summer with a grant of $125,000 from the Coleman Foundation. The program has a manufacturing curriculum, a related soft-skills curriculum and job-assessment tools adaptable for each participant, said Sara LaMontagne, adult services coordinator at Have Dreams.

The first class of three students “learned a variety of different tasks plus soft skills,” Ms. Kroll said. These skills are adaptable for other jobs, she added.

Examples of soft skills are having appropriate interactions with co-workers and supervisors, engaging in break-time conversations, asking for help when they need it and learning to do the next thing, said Ms. La Montagne.

 “They learn to say, ‘I’ve finished the job; what can I do next?’” she added.

The measure of success at the end of each internship will be empirical, Ms. LaMontagne said: measured growth and achieving new skills.  “We had a Kellogg intern over the summer, who measured the baseline of their productivity at Jean’s bakery. Increases in speed and productivity are markers of success,” said Ms. LaMontagne.

The first class of apprentices, six in all, graduated last summer and Ms. Kroll offered each of them a job.

“Jean is a great partner,” said Ms. LaMontagne. “She has a passion for our clients.”

The specialty goods baked for ILoveSweets in the Have Dreams Academy may not always bear their name, Ms. Kroll said, but they are in “a lot of coffee shops in Chicago and in all the airlines flying out of O’Hare.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...