When Shiri Reuveni-Ullrich got her master’s in speech therapy back in 2005, she never imagined it would lead to her owning a bakery. This isn’t one of those stories about a major life event prompting a drastic change in career paths. Instead, it’s a tale of combining two lifelong passions — baking and speech pathology — into one.
Reuveni-Ullrich grew up cooking in the kitchen with her mother. Throughout her teenage years and adulthood, she continued to hone her craft, even spending two years perfecting her bread recipe alone.
“I don’t see myself as a baker. I just see myself as someone who likes to bake,” she said. “I’m very stubborn, so if there was something I wanted to achieve, I tried until I got it.”
When it came to speech pathology, she also approached things her own way. In one-on-one sessions with clients, she frequently incorporated food preparation.
“I think there’s a binder in food that when we sit and we eat and we enjoy something, we share this joy with others,” she said. “It sheds all the walls we have.”
In 2020, she took her theory a step forward and opened Rising Above Bakery, a nonprofit that employs people with disabilities and teaches them to make tasty treats.
The business started out of Reuveni-Ullrich’s kitchen during the pandemic. Now the bakery operates at Rockland Community College’s Hospitality and Culinary Arts Center in Nyack. The college is allowing her to use the location for free while they search for a paying tenant — and as Shriti searches for a more permanent location.
Currently, Rising Above has 24 volunteers, about half of which are people with disabilities. Starting in May, Reuveni-Ullrich has been able to pay her employees a small stipend for their work. Previously, nearly everything went right back into purchasing equipment and ingredients, many of which are sourced nearby in upstate New York. Even before she could pay her workers, she says that a long waiting list of volunteers were hoping to join.
Even longer than the waitlist is the menu. There are over 60 items ranging from classic baked goods like brownies and chocolate chip cookies all the way to tahini shortbread cookies and pear and chai scones. That’s not to mention the wide assortment of freshly baked breads.
Reuveni-Ullrich’s personal favorite is the chocolate babka. However, she said the sweetest treat is watching the people she works with grow and become more confident in themselves.
“I have seen how much they’ve grown in many different ways…finding their own strengths, their skills around the kitchen, socializing more,” she said. “These are individuals who don’t usually use their language abilities at all. In the kitchen, they laughed, they sang.”
Rising Above currently sells their baked goods out of their kitchen and storefront in Nyack and Chestnut Ridge, as well as in Closter and Haworth in New Jersey.
For Reuveni-Ullrich, Rising Above is a community affair, and she wants to reach as many people as possible.
“I knew that it was important for us to be out in the community,” she said. “I’m hoping people seeing us baking together will inspire someone with a disability to do something.”
Photos by Shiri Reuveni-Ullrich
Ryan Bieber is a journalist and filmmaker based out of Westchester. He enjoys beautiful hikes and good eats. Find him at ryanbiebermedia.com.