Profiles of Emerging Leaders – Alivia and Jessica Wade

MAKING CUPCAKES COUNT – Alivia and Jessica Wade are the forces behind Mommy and Me Cupcakes, a hobby-turned-business that is allowing the 11-year-old to explore her interest in a potential culinary career. “I think education has a profound effect at instilling leadership in Weakley County,” said Jessica, a teacher who now serves on the Weakley County School Administration staff. “The recent push for CTE [Career Technical Education] programs at the high school level by our state is something I am very excited about since Alivia has expressed potential interest in seeking out a culinary career as a trade.”  

By Karen Campbell

Cheering may be the secret ingredient behind the growing enterprise known as Mommy and Me Cupcakes.

Eleven-year-old Alivia has concluded her competitive cheer career with Union City’s Cheer Extreme All-Stars that placed 7 out of 19 in a national meet in Florida in April. And, though still a Martin Elementary fifth grader, she has already earned a place in the Martin Middle School squad. She’s the “me” in the six-month-old business that covered her travel to the Florida competition.

“Mommy” is Jessica Wade, the Response to Intervention Coordinator for Weakley County Schools. Her cheers are for both her daughter and the educational system that has supported the fifth grader’s culinary pursuit and that’s making Career Technical Education – a choice Alivia is leaning towards as she continues to grow her baking business — a priority.

While Alivia may have just turned 11 at the end of April, she has all the indicators of a successful entrepreneur. She’s got a great sense of style – “fancy but kinda cool” she says. She knows a strength is being kind and laughs that her friends would probably also add that she is “weird and funny.”

Mom interjects that she’s sassy, “in a good way most days,” and very independent. While her brother Will is older, mom says Alivia has the street smarts that makes developing a business while also being a cheerleader, a fifth grader, a friend, sister and daughter, possible.

She loves doing flips and singing, interests that were clearly evident as the interview grew longer and she began circling the table at her favorite coffee shop, moving her arms to the beat of a softly whispered chant or song. The two riff off each other, finishing stories and laughing at memories such as the time glitter showed up in the baking powder or when they broke into dance in the kitchen because if Mama Mia is playing, what else can you do?

Alivia remembers putting on her first kitchen apron when she was three years old and has always shown an interest in baking. So, she is all smiles as she helps recount how the hobby-turned-business has grown to a Facebook group of more than 350 where they regularly post what baked items are for sale, feature contests, and even share Alivia-produced Live updates. Alivia, with Jessica’s oversight, started the page. The profits have gone to cover cheer expenses and this fall will help to fulfill the family’s ongoing commitment to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

“Not only has this been quality time together for us in the kitchen, she has been learning valuable skills like networking, supply and demand, advertising, profits, etc.,” said Jessica who spent seven years in a Martin Primary classroom before assuming her role with the board of education a year ago.

Thus far, the commitment translates into mixing batches of cupcakes in flavors like Alivia’s favorite, Snickerdoodle, banana pudding, cookies and cream and Reese’s Peanut Butter; sugar cookies donning decorations that transform the sweet treats into superheroes, emojis, and baby sharks; and Oreo and peanut butter balls. Alivia’s favorite part (besides taste testing) is to pipe the icing on the cupcakes. Mom handles the sugar cookie decorating but has plans for Alivia to take that over as she gets older.

Jessica praises the Martin Elementary School staff for the support given to Alivia, as they have faithfully purchased the treats. As interest in the business grows – a recent weekend saw them packaging up nearly 200 cookies and 100 cupcakes – they have expansion plans that extend to setting up at the Martin Farmer’s Market on May 18.

One of their first marketing efforts – the Martin Chocolate Crawl – helped underscore the value of the hands-on educational opportunity. Alivia had already discovered that baking required a great deal of math and knowing things like how many cups are in a quart. The two admit they are on a first name basis with Google and Siri when it comes to halving or doubling recipes. And though difficult to initially get her head around, “you have to spend money to make money” is a concept Alivia now grasps … though reluctantly.

“She now understands the value of looking at the cost of ingredients when determining what recipes to try, how to price what we sell, and how to advertise,” explained Jessica.

However, promotion and marketing costs were a hard lesson learned when Alivia had to use her Christmas money to purchase ingredients and then not even sell but instead give away products at the Chocolate Crawl.

Having a goal has been helpful. Now that she says she is “too old and my back hurts so much” from cheer competitions, Alivia has her eyes set on where her hard-earned funds will go next – St. Jude.

Already committed to the cause due to Jessica’s and her partner Amy Glasgow’s three years of running the fundraising race in support of the hospital, Alivia upped her engagement after learning, via her grandmother, a school teacher in Union City, of a four-year-old with leukemia who was being treated at the Memphis hospital. Given that one of her cousins is also four, she says she can’t imagine what it would be like to see someone she loved going through such an illness.

“It’s better for the money to go to them who need it rather than us for stuff we may not need,” Alivia pointed out with pragmatic compassion.

Last year, she joined the entire family for the 5K and even got to witness Amy drop to her knee to propose to Jessica at the finishing line. Prior to Mommy and Me, the fundraising focused on sales of t-shirts and arts and crafts that the family created. This year the hope is that their baked goods can raise a substantial amount to donate.

While the impish grin when Alivia pokes at her mother for being “old” as well as “amazing, awesome, loving and kind,” is a reminder that this philanthropic small business enthusiast hasn’t yet reached her teens, it’s hard not to cheer her on. Most notably is that moment when, asked to offer advice for other would-be youthful entrepreneurs, she responds with something straight out of a TED Talk: “Follow your heart. Do what you like best. Don’t give up. Try.”

Cheers to you, Alivia. Cheers to you.

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