On the Rise Bakery gives felons, addicts second chance
Brother Ray Stadmeyer started the bakery at Capuchin Soup Kitchen 10 years ago to help men get a fresh start
Driving down 8 Mile, Yolanda Marshall and her 87-year-old uncle Matthew Hall thought about stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts for a sweet afternoon treat. But they headed to On the Rise Bakery & Cafe instead.
“I heard somebody tried to break in here on the news, so I said, ‘Let me stop in here,’ ” says Marshall, 53, clutching a white paper bag.
What’d she get?
“Too much,” she says, laughing.
For $5.75, the bag was loaded with cookies, muffins and caramel-glazed pastries.
“Next time, you get some sandwiches and ice cream,” says manager Brian Talley, standing behind the counter in a black polo with the bakery’s sun logo. “You can sit down and have lunch.”
Marshall didn’t need to be convinced.
“I’ll be back!” she shouts, shuffling out the boarded up door where glass stood two weeks prior.
The Detroit bakery that employs men released from prison or treated for substance abuse has suffered a series of robberies the last few months, but that hasn’t discouraged the customers , or the bakers.
“We’re going to have to put up some pretty expensive metal shutters because we can’t keep (replacing) glass,” says Talley, estimating the installation will cost $6,000, which they hope to raise through donations.
The shutters will drop down at night to prevent break-ins, but Talley doesn’t like the idea.
“We started off where everyone could just walk in,” he says, “and we loved that part of it.”
Rising with the bread
Brother Ray Stadmeyer, pastor of Detroit parishes St. Charles Borromeo and Nativity of Our Lord, founded the bakery 10 years ago as part of the ROPE (Reaching Our Potential Everyday) program through the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.
His mission: To help men he saw at the soup kitchen break a perpetual cycle.
“We would see people going off to prison or treatment and then coming back...Within a couple of weeks, they’d have no job, no stable place to live and they would start spiraling downward,” says Stadmeyer, 61. “All the sudden, they’d be back doing the same stuff. They’d either be getting high or involved in crimes.”
He devised the one-year program that provides housing, food and a job at the bakery. The men are paid more than minimum wage, and they must save at least two-thirds of their income, so they have money for housing and transportation after the program.
Six men are enrolled at a time. The house, blocks from the bakery, is undergoing renovations so a dozen men can enroll next year.
The point isn’t to teach baking skills, Stadmeyer stresses, “but to build their self-esteem and help them to deal with the past.” The bakery’s name signifies not only the bread, but also the men, “rising.”
The nearly 80 men who’ve completed the program have secured jobs in construction, retail and the food industry. Only two Stadmeyer are aware of have returned to prison.
Talley, 70, was one of the first men in the program nine years ago when they baked out of the soup kitchen. (The Gratiot location opened more than two years ago.)
“At 60 with a felony, my options were limited,” Talley says. He smoked crack and abandoned his family for 26 years. He didn’t want to try “another program,” but when The Salvation Army told him about ROPE, he gave it a shot.
Today, he’s thankful Stadmeyer — affectionately called “Brother Ray” by the men — accepted him with open arms.
“As an addict, I didn’t know I didn’t have to use,” he says. “Whatever I did, whatever I accomplished, I would destroy it with drugs.”
It’s been nine years and seven months he’s been clean. “It will be 10 years next May. Ten good years,” he says, smiling.
Perhaps best of all, his children accepted him back in their lives.
“Today I have a good relationship with each of them and my grandkids,” he says.
ROPE gives hope
Bakery production manager Paul Gibson of Detroit went to prison as a juvenile in 1983. He didn’t get off parole until 2010.
“If I would have told you I loved myself in 2008, you wouldn’t have believed that. I didn’t believe that,” he says. “I was trying to kill myself — using drugs, stealing, (going) in and out of prison.”
ROPE gave him one thing he was lacking: hope.
“It gave me hope to live again,” he says. “The program is more than words: It’s life. It gives people their life back. When you get your life back, you get your love for yourself back.”
Since participating in ROPE in 2010, Gibson, 63, boasts the police haven’t stopped him for even a traffic violation. Brother Ray, he says, set him on a better path.
“I got on that path, and I haven’t been off in seven years,” he says. “I guess that’s why they call it the ROPE program because it pulled me up out of a hole and set me back on solid ground.”
Bagging sandwiches in the kitchen, Taiwon Bourgeois shares he’s a “changed person.”
The 42-year-old Pontiac native was homeless before he found ROPE in 2012.
“I slept by the garbage cans, slept in people’s cars. I even ate out of the garbage,” he says. “I was homeless, an alcoholic, I was on drugs.”
Eventually, Bourgeois hit a breaking point.
“I just got tired of being homeless,” he says.
While he struggled to find food only a few years ago, his pay ensures he no longer goes hungry.
“I don’t even want no more than what I’ve got,” he says, referencing his earnings, “because I’m OK with where I’m at.”
He couldn’t be more grateful that Brother Ray and Brother Jerry Smith, Capuchin Soup Kitchen’s executive director, allowed him in ROPE.
“Everything I accomplished and have is through Brother Ray and Brother Jerry,” Bourgeois says.
The thought of sleeping outside and begging for change again is enough to stop him from taking even a sip of alcohol.
“If I started drinking, I would be back homeless, and I’m not going to go that route,” he says. “I go to the store everyday. I’m that strong where (buying alcohol) don’t cross my mind.”
St. Clair Shores resident Adele Grady, 76, started volunteering at the bakery’s production facility down the street six years ago. She comes nearly every Saturday at 7:30 a.m., after the men have baked though the night.
“I thought I’d do this for Lent, and I just kept on going,” Grady says. Originally volunteering to help others, she says she gets “much more back” from the men. “We’ve become like family,” she says.
Most volunteers hail from the suburbs, and Stadmeyer notes that they too have “grown” from working with the bakers. “A lot of stereotypes have been broken between the two,” he says.
James, a ROPE member since July who requested to not use his last name, wrapped muffins while talking sports with 15-year-old twins David and Joseph Szczepanik volunteering with St. Fabian Catholic Church in Farmington Hills.
James, 56, was homeless a few years, sleeping in his truck and brushing his teeth at Wal-Mart.
“When you look at my picture you can just see I was a broken man,” he says.
He stopped talking to his daughter in college because he didn’t want to worry her, or worse, be the reason she quit school.
In the last six months, James says he’s learned how to get his life back in order and reunite with his family. Eventually, he wants to launch a cleaning business. “They say, ‘cleanliness is next to godliness,’ ” he says.
Talley emphasizes this program is different from other Detroit treatment and rehab centers: It gives men “a fresh start.”
“Men spend a year here, and they grow,” he says. “They leave here, and they take their place out there in the world. It really works. That’s the most important thing — that men are becoming men here.”
On the Rise
8900 Gratiot, Detroit
7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
Call (313) 922-8510 to order holiday pies and cookies by Tuesday.
Find On the Rise Bakery at these pop-up locations
■St. Frances Cabrini Parish
9000 Laurence, Allen Park
5 p.m. Saturday
8 and 10 a.m. and noon Sunday
■St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church
22412 Overlake, St. Clair Shores
4 and 6 p.m. Dec. 24
8 and 10 a.m. and noon Dec. 25