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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Women of the Year: Dana Bellefeuille providing jobs to those with physical, developmental disabilities through the Village Bakery

For Dana Bellefeuille, baking means more than just creating a tiered wedding cake or a delectable pastry – it’s a way to connect with others and make the community a better place.

Bellefeuille, a pastry chef with more than 20 years of experience in baking and culinary arts, plans to mentor young adults with physical and developmental disabilities through the Village Bakery, which is slated to open next month at 190 W. Hayden Ave. in Hayden.

“The bakery is meant to highlight abilities. For so many of us that have some sort of a special need – we are looked over for jobs because we’re a little bit different,” Bellefeuille said. “There is still so much talent that everyone has, if they’re just given an opportunity. It’s my mission more than anything to show our community what we can do, and if I could inspire other companies to take a look at these individuals to add to their businesses, our community would be so much stronger.”

Employees at the bakery will learn baking, food preparation, cake decorating and organizational skills, in addition to gaining valuable life skills and a sense of independence, Bellefeuille said.

“Everything is going to be done in a way that will make sure they are able to help themselves at home as well as in any workplace and give them skills they would use in any bakery or coffee shop,” she said.

Bellefeuille’s desire to create opportunities for those with physical and developmental disabilities began at an early age.

“We were all teased for something growing up, and I was teased because I had a learning disability. I was dyslexic and back in that day, I was segregated from my classmates. I was teased because I was different. And all I wanted was to be included,” she said.

“Then, when I was a teenager, I was visiting a friend and she was talking about a book about kids with special needs, and God giving them to special parents,” she added. “I wished to myself that I would be thought of as special and years later, I was blessed with two kids with special needs – one with a physical disability and one with a developmental disability. Then you go into parent mode, and you try to protect them from the meanness of the world and you just pray that they will be accepted and they will find their way in life.”

Bellefeuille’s inspiration for the bakery was sparked two years ago while her son was attending Project SEARCH, a high school transition program that provides education and training to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“That is where I met a young woman, Emily. She had Down syndrome and she said that she wanted to work in a coffee shop or a bakery,” Bellefeuille said. “That’s when the light bulb went off. I have been a pastry chef for 20 years and everyone here said that I should open a bakery. I really didn’t see the point until I met Emily, and that’s when I knew what I needed to do – put the two things that I know a lot about together and create the Village Bakery.”

Bellefeuille had been operating the bakery out of her home prior to finding a brick-and-mortar location in Hayden. She launched a GoFundMe campaign in August to assist with costs of opening the Village Bakery, in addition to taking out personal and business loans to fund the project.

The community has been extremely supportive of the bakery, she said.

Someone purchased a new washer and dryer for the bakery, while others donated a cookie printer and dough sheeter, which will be imperative for making Danish pastries and croissants, and rolling out pie and cookie dough, Bellefeuille said.

“Our entire community has rallied around this project and supported us and held us up because it’s needed in our community and everybody wants to see this succeed. They want to see our village succeed,” she said. “It’s going to work because of who we hire, and how wonderful and amazing they are. It doesn’t have anything to do with me. I just get a front-row seat to watch this beautiful story unfold.”

Bellefeuille is kindhearted and always willing to help community members in need, said Debbie Kitselman, a neighbor of the pastry chef for more than 12 years.

Kitselman said she’s delighted to see Bellefeuille’s longtime dream of opening the Village Bakery come to fruition.

“She really is an inspiration,” Kitselman said. “She’s a great advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.”

Bellefeuille is a self-taught pastry chef. Her interest in baking began several years ago after making a wedding cake for her sister.

“(My husband and I) put together a very modest 1970s style wedding cake with carnations upon pillars, and my grandfather went back for fourths of cake,” she said. “I thought to myself, there’s something here and I needed to explore it further. I was hooked from that moment.”

At the time, Bellefeuille couldn’t afford to attend pastry school, so she read books on culinary arts and baked for neighbors. Later, she taught cake decorating.

Bellefeuille moved to North Idaho a dozen years ago after her husband took a job with the Spokane Valley Fire Department. Bellefeuille has served as a pastry chef at the Coeur d’Alene Resort and Bardenay Restaurant & Distillery in Coeur d’Alene.

The most rewarding aspect of teaching baking skills to those with disabilities is giving them a sense of purpose and confidence, Bellefeuille said.

Bellefeuille recalls teaching baking skills to a young woman with cerebral palsy who aspired to attend pastry school. The young woman and her mother traveled from Texas to Idaho to train with Bellefeuille.

“They stayed with me for two weeks and we got to work together,” Bellefeuille said. “The daughter had to do the (cake) piping herself one-handed and she nailed it. She jumped up and down in my kitchen and celebrated. We gave her the confidence. She just needed a little push to get there and she has since graduated from pastry school.”

Bellefeuille said she would love to eventually open additional Village Bakery locations.

“We would love to be able to see this take off, and it’s not just me that is doing this,” she said. “There are similar stories across the United States of parents that are doing the exact same thing, so they know that their children will be included in society.

“I’m not the first and I’m definitely not going to be the last.”