Social entrepreneur urges Memphians to "Make change. Eat more Cookies."

A cookie baker since childhood, Lauren Young has partnered her love of creating sweet treats with a passion for helping the youth of Memphis thrive, in her local start-up business Sweet LaLa's.
For Lauren Young, baking has always been a form of therapy. Since 2001 she has been baking her own brand of cookies, Sweet LaLa's, out of her Memphis home. And for the past six years she has served on the board of JIFF (Juvenile Intervention and Faith-Based Follow-up), a nonprofit organization that provides intervention services for court-referred youth through case mentoring and a "Learn to Earn" program. According to Young, the greatest need for kids who have participated in JIFF's mentorship program is employment. This need, plus Lauren's desire to open a bakery, led to a mutually beneficial partnership between Sweet LaLa's and JIFF.
Instead of incorporating as its own nonprofit organization, Sweet LaLa's is a for-profit operation with a business model that covers its operational costs and allows it to eventually donate its proceeds to JIFF. The bakery also provides job experience and training for JIFF youth.

Sweet LaLa's production now takes place at JIFF's headquarters in Downtown Memphis. Aside from renting the kitchen space from JIFF, Sweet LaLa's pays the hourly wages of the JIFF workers who produce the cookies.

"We want our students to know they are valued and that they add value to our business model," says Young.

Participants must complete the 16 week JIFF case mentoring program in order to work for Sweet LaLa's, and participants will rotate as JIFF assists them in landing other opportunities. Since their official launch at JIFF on December 1 of last year, eight students have worked producing Sweet LaLa's cookies. They've baked up over 7,500 cookies for large corporate groups and individuals throughout the United States in the first two months of operation, with new customers being attracted each week. 

As for the future, Young plans to expand into a storefront for Sweet LaLa's, plus work on marketing to vendors as production increases. "We certainly have dreams to grow the bakery, but for now I hope we are spinning dreams for these kids in new ways."

She hopes that other companies will follow their lead and take on kids in the workplace. Lauren believes that the Sweet LaLa's business model can and should be replicated by other service industry companies in the area. She explains, "Kids are eager to work and eager to be compensated. They are incredibly talented and capable, and they all have big dreams. The bakery can offer a real chance at honing employment skills and set a tone for greater expectations in the jobs they seek once they leave our company. The difference is that our bakery is not just a practice field with a certificate of achievement, it is a viable training field to understand customer expectations, packaging and inventory, product quality, timeliness, hospitality and more."
Sweet La La's currently offers six varieties of made-to-order cookies: Original LaLa, ChocoLaLa, SnickaLaLa, RedLaLa, LemonLaLa and NuteLaLa's, which are made with Nutella. The minimum order is two dozen, with free delivery in Memphis and shipping available for other areas.
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