Trying to Survive in Philly
Jason admittedly had a tough life that included jail time, addiction and homelessness, but he says, “It’s all a part of my story to get me to where I am now.” Thankfully, Jason is able to reflect on all the events in his life with gratitude. But let’s talk about how this journey started, back in Philadelphia, where he is from. In 2011, Jason was laid off from Starbucks which ultimately led to him being evicted and being homeless. Around the same time, the Occupy Movement was taking shape in Philly and they had necessities Jason needed, such as shelter and clothing. But right away, Jason thought, “What am I going to do to get myself out of this situation of being homeless?”
The Right Place At The Right Time
Jason was volunteering at a homeless shelter, which may seem odd to some since he was homeless himself, but you’ll quickly see that Jason lives his life to serve others. While volunteering, another man came in, by the name of Kyle Dorsey and he asked Jason, “What’s your future plan?” And Jason told him he wanted to start a cookie business. Kyle wanted to be an author and he gave Jason a flier for some local entrepreneurship classes. Now, the classes costed $200 but it said you could register and pay after you started, so Jason registered!
The first day, he received a book and knew he needed this class, but the instructor also said you had to pay before the second class in order to continue. Jason approached the instructor explaining that he was homeless but really wanted to take the class. The instructor asked him to write an essay on why he wanted to take the class, his business idea, how he would benefit and how he could help others. The next week, the instructor said “I read your essay, I was really inspired by it. I think you are going to be the most successful or one of the most successful students to come out of this class. I have one scholarship left, and I’m going to give it to you.” From that day forward, Jason took every class he could to learn the skills to be an entrepreneur.
First Taste Of Success
Jason’s family and friends thought he was crazy for chasing this dream, considering his circumstances. But Jason knew he could only go up. While there were many naysayers, he knew, “As long as I believe I can do it, it doesn’t matter what everyone else believes.” Yet, he knew he had a LONG checklist in front of him.
First, he was able to secure a place to sleep at a shelter. Next, he approached the Director of a kitchen and gave him a proposal to use his kitchen. They agreed and allowed him to use the kitchen free of charge for a year! Jason thought, “Now I’m gaining some momentum.” He now had a place to sleep and bake but he would need some money. He connected with Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, and they had an entrepreneurship program. Jason was fortunate enough to be granted some seed money and “Just Cookies” was born on June 1, 2012.
Unfortunately, it was a short time after, that Jason’s good fortune and hard work was taken advantage of. Someone offered to help him with his business finances and since this was not a strength for Jason at the time, he trusted them. Ultimately, they stole $2500 from him, which was all the money he had saved. So, Jason spent some time considering where he should restart his business…California came to mind.
Taking A Chance On A Dream
Even Jason’s mom thought he was crazy for moving to California; a place he had never even been and knew no one. But he was undeterred. He arrived in Santa Ana (after 34 bus transfers) on October 10, 2013, with a backpack of food, a duffel bag of clothes and $5 cash. Once again, he was faced with the daunting task of starting over. He secured shelter at the Salvation Army Hospitality House. Next, he found a kitchen in Huntington Beach. The owner allowed him to bake free of charge in exchange for keeping it clean and some other responsibilities. Soon thereafter, Jason was “selling cookies like crazy!”
While Jason was starting to achieve his dream, he couldn’t help but wonder, “Why did I come all the way from Philly to California to sell cookies?” Jason knows this was God’s plan for him and that “It wasn’t about him. It was about going to California to share his story with people who needed to hear it; to give inspiration.” This was when Jason changed his business name to “Sweet Mission”. His goals are to inspire, empower and encourage. He chooses to surround himself with people who “come from barriers or vulnerable backgrounds, to teach entrepreneurship and second chances.”
When working with people in his business and community, Jason wants to know “What is your next step? How can Sweet Mission help you achieve that?” It’s all about teamwork and community. He likes to use the analogy that ingredients like chocolate chips, flour, sugar, vanilla, can’t do anything by themselves, “but once you put everything together, in a bowl, and mix them, it produces something amazing. We are a team, we worked as a team to accomplish something.”
Sweet Mission Today
Jason and Sweet Mission have come a LONG way. First off, he has his own apartment which he LOVES. He sells about 20 dozen cookies every week and has even done cookies for an Oscar party and BET awards post-party! He works closely with real estate agents to support their events and partners with businesses anywhere he sees an opportunity to bring joy through cookies. His cookies are now even a part of welcome packages for 19 apartment building properties!
Even with Jason’s sweet success, he still pours himself into the community. Twice a year, he hosts events that are open to the public. His first Thanksgiving Harvest Feast fed 350 people! Subsequent events have included kid’s activities, shaved ice, makeshift grocery store, clothing, live music and more. Jason had more than 150 volunteers to help run his last event! The next event is scheduled for Thanksgiving and Jason shared, “I know my purpose now. It’s to serve.”
Jason also hopes to launch the “Sweet Mission Project”, which will be the non-profit arm of his business. His goal is to be able to support employees and members of the community with funding, connections and resources to get them to their next step in life. He envisions a storefront someday, perhaps a cafe, to serve more of the community. “I don’t expect people to work with Sweet Mission forever. They will learn the skills they need and move on.” And that’s the goal – to inspire, empower and encourage.
Takeaways from Jason’s Life Lessons
Jason puts intense thought and meaning into everything he does. To him, “Cookies represent completeness. Cookies are round, and I teach people to be complete.” He also believes “Sweet Mission is hope. Don’t ever give up on your dreams.”
Jason’s mom passed away in 2015, but her last words to Jason were “Never give up on your dreams and always feed people.” He knows she’s watching over him and is so happy with how he serves.
As for Kyle, the one who gave him the flier back in Philly? They talk and connect every day and Kyle is still writing! Jason has told him “I owe all of this to you,” referring to the entrepreneurship class flier he gave Jason.
Putting It All In Perspective
I connect and work with a lot of bakers and it can be overwhelming to start a business! But when I think of the magnitude of hurdles and challenges Jason has had to overcome, anything feels possible. He believed in himself and was driven to help others. Regardless of his situation, he finds a way to move forward. While I admire Jason’s baking talent, it is his character and resiliency that are truly remarkable. He deserves all the success and I know his story will always stay with me. His goal to inspire, empower and encourage has certainly reinforced my intentions to continue to help and serve others!
To connect with Jason or follow his journey, follow the links below or visit his website HERE.
Enjoy this gallery capturing some of what makes Sweet Mission so special!
Make sure to subscribe to receive Your Baking Bestie’s weekly newsletter so you never miss out on a Featured Baker, new technique or recipe!
Sign up to receive my newsletter!