The only crime on your mind when you walk into Confections with Convictions, the handmade gourmet chocolate shop on Crosstown Parkway in Kalamazoo, may be one of indulgence. There are truffles, rose-honey caramels with salted pistachios, and dried strawberries.
Owner-chocolatier Dale Anderson has come up with more than 90 recipes to tantalize your taste buds. But he says the sweetest part is the people he employs to make the chocolates: young people with criminal convictions seeking another chance in life.
“I never intended to be a chocolatier,” Anderson says. “This was not a life dream of mine. I was working with young people in the juvenile court system and started to see how talk therapy had its benefits, but there were many challenges for the young people I was working with that talk therapy wasn’t going to solve. You’re 16 with two felonies on your record. You try to change the trajectory of your life and get a job. This was back in 2008 and the financial crisis had happened. People were having a hard time getting work anyway.”
Anderson decided to provide more practical help than just teaching kids about interviewing skills or polishing resumes. At first, he considered bringing youth onto his construction sites to learn trade skills, only to find out that child labor laws banned workers under 18 from using ladders and power tools.
Anderson, who has a master’s degree in counseling and multicultural conflict resolution, has also been a licensed counselor and a mediator in the court system since 1996. He's also worked at Campus Employee Dispute Resolution Services at Western Michigan University since 2006. In 2010, Anderson opened Confections with Convictions. The idea was born out of word play when giving a gift of chocolates.
Anderson spent three years studying the art of making gourmet chocolates. He hired youth with criminal records, and his success stories are accumulating. Not only is he working on an expansion of the shop, he's has helped to put many young lives back on track.
Anderson talks about his first employee, whom he describes as a very determined young woman: “She came to us homeless and pregnant. She had dropped out of high school. She then finished her GED, got an apartment, completed an associate’s degree, eventually found work in a more permanent position that was more in keeping with her personal goals. She is now about to receive a bachelor’s in business administration at Western.”
Anderson has many similar success stories at his store. His approach to chocolate is similar. It sells certified, fair-trade, organic products that ensure fair treatment of both the cacao bean grower and the seller of chocolate. The shop is getting ready to expand its online presence.
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