photos BRODIE NALYWAJKO
When is a cookie more than a cookie? For Rick Cohen, the answer appeared after his own lived experience inspired him to find a better way to support vulnerable people in finding meaningful employment. In 2021 he launched Worthy Cause – a registered charity based in Melbourne that is using the power of baked goods to help pave new pathways forward.
This weekend, Rick and his team will launch their very first bake-a-thon at Co Bake Space in Richmond as they attempt to bake 3320 cookies – setting the stage for 3320 employment hours in the coming year. The secret ingredient? Your support. Find out how you can get involved, then read more from Rick below.
Why were you inspired to open Worthy Cause?
Most people who work in charity come from a place of lived experience and I’m no different. Growing up I suffered from PTSD from family violence and severe depression. I spent a lot of time in psychiatric hospitals where I worked in group therapy sessions with a range of people. What all these people had in common was a shared belief that employment was an unattainable dream. They’d had doctors and therapists tell them it wouldn’t be possible. They’d been on JobSeeker for years. While their age, ethnicity, gender, traumas and life stories were so different, they all shared one thing in common: none of them had a way out.
Speaking with these people, I felt they had the intelligence and drive to make change happen if offered the opportunity. Leaving that place, I felt I could help create these opportunities. I went back to university, completed my degree and after working full-time, I had the money and means to start Worthy Cause.
There are myriad reasons a person might find themself facing barriers to employment. What power comes to vulnerable people when finding meaningful work?
Often the people who begin our program feel directionless and devoid of self-confidence. They have begun this journey many times before, and all of those times they have failed or been failed. The people our program supports have overcome life’s toughest challenges and, in doing so, have foregone the learnings and generational benefits of regular employment. They’ve been left behind.
Although we offer a complete wrap-around service – paid training, emotional counsellors, soft-skills development sessions and financial literacy training – the power that our employment participants take from our program is self-confidence and a renewed sense of purpose. People enter the program expecting to fail and outshine their wildest expectations to put themselves (and their dependents) on a new upward path towards a better life. It’s a life they are achieving through their own hard work.
People enter the program expecting to fail and outshine their wildest expectations to put themselves (and their dependents) on a new upward path towards a better life.
Can you talk us through the program structure?
So, you’ve come this far you might as well find out what I’m talking about! Worthy Cause offers a structured six-month employment program for people who have struggled to find employment due to their disability or disadvantage. They can receive a stable income, financial literacy training, emotional counselling, soft-skills development and on-the-job skills building in an inclusive and safe environment through trained, qualified experts. When they’re ready, we assist them to find other employment on their terms.
Obviously your work is so much more than just making cookies but tell us about them! Do you have a favourite flavour? What can people expect when they bite in?
We bake and sell our amazing cookies to fund our program. Baking our cookies forms the core skills training for our participants who receive above the award rate to work in our kitchen. We roll through 12 flavours but our staples are the classic choc chip, choc chip with Nutella filling, choc chip with peanut butter filling and a birthday cake cookie with sprinkles and white chocolate. We serve up fresh cookies at local market stalls and events, and sell them at our online store, to corporate customers and through retailers and wholesalers.
All of our cookies are seriously thicc. Think gooey and chewy – they’ll knock you on your ass.
You’re asking me to choose between my own children here so I will do that thing all parents do and say, “They’re all my favourites,” but we all know that’s a big lie. My favourite child is choc chip with Nutella filling. But really, all of our cookies are seriously thicc. Think gooey and chewy – they’ll knock you on your ass.