HENDERSON — Nine Vance County Middle School students took part in a Christmas cookie decorating session Wednesday in the downtown Henderson office of Gateway Community Development Corporation. The acts of fellowship and collaborating for a taste of holiday cheer might have made the afternoon worthwhile enough for the children. The gathering being additionally educational — well, that was just the icing on the cake.

Or cookie, as it were.

“So today served a bunch of different purposes for the kids,” said Tracy Mosley of Helping All People Excel Inc. “They learned about health. They learned about nutrition. They learned about career planning and mapping, and they learned about — just life skills — how to make it.”

Represented Wednesday by Dasha Stutson, Gang Free Inc. also helped organized the event that featured the mother-daughter duo of Charlena Lee and Albany Thomas-Hooper. Charlena and Albany operate Sugar Grinders Creamery and Bakery, which opened in downtown Franklinton in 2017. Beryle Lewis, a Vance County Health Department health education specialist lended a hand too.

Charlena eased into professional baking with a friend before fully devoting herself to the craft and the business, going as far as becoming a full-fledged pastry chef with a culinary school degree.

“You can take something that you’re very passionate about and turn it into a business,” Charlena said of her message to the VCMS students.

“And let it be lucrative,” Albany added.

Sugar Grinders bakes a variety of sweet treats, offering an assortment of custom wedding cakes, birthday cakes and cupcakes — they’ve got pound cakes, layered cakes, 3D designer cupcakes, and more.

But iced cookies were the featured item Wednesday as Charlena and Albany taught the students about royal icing and the techniques used to decorate cookies — these coming in the shapes of snowflakes, reindeer and Christmas trees.

So the students learned about baking, entrepreneurship and even nutrition (cookies don’t grow on trees).

“They do know what ingredients from the five food groups are inside of that snack they’re decorating,” Stutson said.

They also learned about portion control from Stutson and Lewis. This group of students, all sixth and seventh graders, are currently in a physical education class and prior to exploring food and nutrition, had been learning about the heath impacts of tobacco.

“We can’t do this type of stuff enough for our kids because what you see is what you become,” Mosley said. “So we have to show them something different.”

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