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Michigan Volunteers “Treat” Customers with Cookies for a Cause

A young woman taking cookies out of the oven.
Katie VanHamme takes cookies out of the oven.

There’s a “sweet” business booming in Detroit these days.

Bakers churn out batter for cookies, muffins, and various other pastries. Receptionists fill out order forms and schedule delivery shipments. Marketers spread the word about the business and sell delicious goods.

Oh, and it’s all staffed by volunteers with intellectual disabilities.

Indeed, the Mi Cookie Project, a non-profit commercial bakery headquartered in Melvindale, Michigan, strives to prove to metropolitan Detroit that people with intellectual disabilities are not able only work, but also be the cornerstone of a business.

Maggie Gibson, the Chief Operating Officer of Mi Cookie Project, began the business in 2016 with enthusiastic encouragement from the Special Olympics Michigan community.

“I’ve been involved with Special Olympics in some capacity since 1976, and when we started the Mi Cookie Project, all of my initial support came from my connections at Special Olympics,” Maggie said. “Athletes, parents and coaches all wanted to see this business become a reality.”

A young man preparing cookie batter.
Jimmy Hamrick blends together batter in the Mi Cookie Project kitchen.

All but two of the Mi Cookie Project’s staffers are Special Olympics Michigan athletes, including Katie VanHamme and Jimmy Hamrick.

Katie has been involved with Special Olympics for 18 years and plays a plethora of sports, including basketball, softball and swimming.

However, it was an interest in soccer which sparked the relationship between her and the Mi Cookie Project.

“One day I was at soccer practice, and Maggie happened to be there and asked if I wanted to get involved in the Mi Cookie Project,” Katie said. “The word ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary, and so I started the following week.”

Jimmy Hamrick is in his eleventh year of involvement with Special Olympics where, like Katie, he plays a multitude of sports, including floor hockey, bowling and kayaking.

He began volunteering at the Mi Cookie Project after building a relationship with Maggie at Special Olympics events. Though he holds a full-time job at a local grocery store, he works with his manager dedicate one day to volunteering at the bakery.

“Competing in Special Olympics is a fun time and has brought be new friendships,” Jimmy said. “And here at Mi Cookie Project, I’ve been able to meet even more people and make new friends.”

A group of people show off their batch of cookies.
Jimmy Hamrick, Maggie Gibson and Kate VanHamme smile with their fresh-baked cookies.

While most of the Mi Cookie Project’s orders come from Michigan, they have shipped various goods all over the world, particularly to deployed military servicemen and women.

“Paying it forward is what we strive to do at Mi Cookie Project,” Maggie said. “Our staff here volunteers in other areas of the community as we work together to build a better world for everyone.”

Later this summer, over 20 nations will send delegations to Detroit for the Unified Cup, and the Mi Cookie Project has already gotten involved.

Last month, they welcomed Special Olympics staffers at a series of Unified Cup-related meetings held in Detroit by sharing their story and providing some treats.

“It was great to meet new people and talk about cookies and Special Olympics,” Jimmy said.

Whether they are on the Special Olympics playing field or in the bakery, volunteers like Katie and Jimmy continue to reach new heights and serve their communities. And despite the challenges they face each day, it’s all about the process toward success.

“In order to help with my mentality, I repeat to myself part of the Special Olympics Athletes’ Oath: ‘Let me be brave in the attempt,’” Katie said.

To learn more about the Mi Cookie Project, head to their Facebook page or give them a call at (734) 770-2223.

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