Colleen Smith knows a lot about numbers and surprisingly, a lot about baking.

Recently the supervisor of accounting at Ranch Ehrlo used the latter skill to build relationships with participants over the holidays.

Colleen, who has a pastry diploma on top of her accounting education, teamed up with Gopher House Supportive Living Program (SLP) participants including Raymond for Ranch Ehrlo’s holiday baking competition.

Ranch Ehrlo Society supports persons with differing abilities by providing group living, educational, and vocational programs to people with multiple, complex developmental needs.

Colleen saw the holiday baking challenge on our staff site and knew she wanted to be involved. She contacted a program director to let them know of her skill set and desire to build relationships with our participants. But before she agreed to participate, she had one condition.

“First I wanted to make sure that Josh Miller would be automatically disqualified,” Colleen joked, laughing about the Ranch staff who is also a talented chef and a former MasterChef Canada contestant.

Colleen interacts frequently with SLP participants when they drop by the accounting office, but she was looking for an opportunity to get to know participants better and build stronger relationships.

Raymond and the winning cake

Colleen was put in touch with Gopher House, and she came prepared to teach them an easy five-minute, one-bowl cake. Colleen explains that she chose that particular recipe because she remembered her CARE training and wanted to be thoughtful in working within the zones of proximal development of the participants and building their competencies.

Ranch Ehrlo is a CARE-certified agency. All our employees receive the training which is based on six practice principles: developmentally focused, family involved, relationship based, trauma informed, competence centered, and ecologically oriented, and is designed to significantly influence the way professionals work with youth and participants.

“Colleen’s efforts provide a range of personal and social life skills. These are competencies that last a lifetime. The activity involved is also a great way to build a lasting relationship characterized by a sincere and genuine attachment/secure base,” explained Dr. Karl Mack, director of child youth development at Ranch Ehrlo.

When the day arrived Colleen not only passed on her baking skills, but she also learned from Raymond about the proper way to make Bannock, creating a reciprocal relationship.

The following day Colleen and Raymond presented their cake in matching aprons to the judges. The cake took first place!

“This was my gift to myself. I took time out of my busy Christmas schedule, on my day off, because I wanted to spend time with the participants doing something that I love and I hoped they would get something out of it too,” Colleen added. “It’s all about making the connections.”

“Spending time with the participants is so heartwarming and I think it is important. It really makes you understand what the mission of Ranch Ehrlo is, and I truly believe we are giving our participants the best possible life we can give them,” Colleen stated.

Colleen is planning on another baking session soon for Raymond’s birthday.