Above all, Sophie Backer credits Seedlings with helping her develop her creativity.

“I remember that Susan would write down every word of my stories. If I wanted the duck to be blue, and then I changed my mind and said, no no I want the duck to be green, all of that would be in the story when Susan read it back to me…I love that Seedlings cares so much about helping children find their own voice. Children have such active and wonderful imaginations and I love that Seedlings nurtures that and encourages them to be unique, crazy, and fabulous. I always felt heard at Seedlings, that I was respected for my opinions and my feelings. For an adult to really ‘hear you’ at such a young age is so wonderful.”

At Sunflower we believe that by honoring each student they come to know and trust themselves and their own instincts and feelings. It’s a gift we work hard to give to each child. And I think it’s even more vital now in our information packed, over-stimulated world. Without it, how do they find their way? Who and what do they pay attention to as they make the myriad choices of their teenage years and young adulthood?

Sophie’s story is illuminating. As education revolutionary Sir Ken Robinson would say, she has found her element . At 23, she’s passionate about and delighted with her work – but her path wasn’t always clear to her.

image (2)At just 15 she was hired by The Addison, a beautiful upscale restaurant in Boca Raton, as an assistant pastry chef. She had begun baking a few years earlier, loving the process and the creativity involved. At The Addison, Sophie says, “I loved the rush… the challenge of having five orders to get ready super-fast… and what if you’re out of an ingredient, or you’re missing  a tool, or you need a new recipe? You have to improvise; you have to be creative.” She realizes it was remarkable that they hired her at such a young age for that job. She excelled there, but she was in high school and had lots of other demands on her time. She got a little burned out. So when she went to college she decided to pursue her love of children, and she began studying early education.

“Making the decision to go back to baking instead of teaching was definitely not an easy one. It happened slowly after years of education courses, lots of time watching the Food Network, and baking every chance I had. Eventually, baking simply won. My love of baking had built up inside of me to the point I thought I would burst if I couldn’t bake that very second… And that’s when I knew I had no other choice but to make a change.”

Sophie graduating pastry school

Sophie graduating pastry school

The thing is, she did have a choice. She could have ignored those feelings, quieted that voice. She could have made baking a hobby. Instead, she moved with her boyfriend to Boulder, Colorado, and enrolled in Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. It felt completely right. She finished her studies and has been working in Boulder as a pastry chef ever since. Currently, she’s at a wholesale company called the Growing Kitchen, working with about 25 others (“I love the people; I love the atmosphere.”) creating all organic, often vegan medicinal desserts. “I never thought I could help people through pastry, but we get letters and emails from stage four cancer patients who say that our products are the only thing that allow them to sleep.” I could almost hear her smile though the phone, and I could sense her very real pride and her huge heart.

Sophie is blessed with an incredibly supportive family, who encouraged her to follow her passion, but she freely credits Seedlings with who she is today too:  “I attribute a lot of my life to Seedlings. I think that my years there molded me into me. They taught me the right things…a moral foundation…and there was such warmth. My best friends today are my friends from Seedlings.”

Sophie’s favorite Seedlings memories?  “I have so many!  Melted crayon art, books, Ice Castle Day, singing with Susan….I have this funny memory: we used to have hard-boiled eggs for snack, and none of us liked the yolks. We would give them to Shelly and she would eat them, until finally she would say, ‘Not one more yolk! No more today!'” (Author’s note: Shelly taught Seedlings with Susan for nine years.)

Sophie’s mom June was one of the first Seedlings parents, and a Circle of Song devotee before that. Sophie remembers, “I asked for Susan to play guitar at my second birthday party. I knew all the songs so well I made a set list for her before the party, with my Mom’s help of course.” Today, Sophie spends her free time at the local farmers market, doing crafty DIY projects, reading, and watching classic movies. Her goal is to one day open her own coffee shop in Boulder. Something tells me, she won’t have trouble finding investors.

© Jennifer Ligeti and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013
Photos courtesy of Sophie Backer

Read more in the Our Seedlings in Full Bloom series: profiles on former Seedlings Adam Gardner, Christina Zarrilli, Cleo Dan and Maxx Berkowitz