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8-year-old boy starts baking business to buy mom a house and make people happy

Jalen Bailey, 8, of Fresno, Calif., stands next to a fresh batch of peanut butter cookies he made at his family’s home,
Jalen Bailey, 8, of Fresno, Calif., stands next to a fresh batch of peanut butter cookies he made at his family’s home, ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Eight-year-old Jalen Bailey was saving some of his money for a KitchenAid.

His mom taught him to save for the “good stuff,” and he’s running a bakery. But someone recently donated the machine he wanted for mixing cookie dough and cake batter, so he’s back to saving up for the rest of the good stuff on his good list.

No. 1 on that list: A house for himself and his single mom. They live in a small rental apartment in central Fresno.

Jalen says he wants a house “so me and my mommy could make more memories in the kitchen, so it could be a bigger kitchen, so I could bake more things.”

I wanted to get me and my mommy a house because we were renting and renting and renting for eight years!

Jalen Bailey

He’s enjoyed baking with his mom, Sharhonda Mahan, for many years, but it’s taken on new fervor since July 1, when he founded Jalen’s Bakery to help make his dreams come true. Jalen counts the things his money is going toward on one hand: “House, college, puppy and savings.”

Then he backtracks a little while looking at his mom, as if not to hurt her feelings in describing what counts as good stuff. He’s sitting beside her on the couch, an arm wrapped affectionately around her waist: “I mean, not houses, you don’t have to … ” His voice trails off, and he looks down at the floor. He mulls over what he said for a moment, then a burst of energy hits, and he’s sitting upright again, bright-eyed: “But – we want to!”

His mother told him not to worry about the house, she’s working on that, but he’s still saving for it. Jalen doesn’t just want a house for a bigger kitchen. He wants a golden retriever. Dogs aren’t allowed in the apartment he shares with his mom.

“It looks beauuuutifuuuullll!” he says of his dream dog.

Jalen also has a GoFundMe donation account online that he’s using to expand his business (the next goal is getting a commercial license and renting a commercial kitchen, which is required to mail his goods to customers) and to support his philanthropic work. He collects backpacks and school supplies that he’s given to around 50 children so far at the Evangel Home in Fresno and a nearby park.

“My mommy told me about how there are a lot of homeless people in the world,” Jalen says. “I didn’t want anybody to feel left out, because there are a lot of kids walking home with their backpacks with all their school supplies. Maybe they (homeless children) were watching them. Maybe they wanted those things.”

I didn’t want anybody to feel left out.

Jalen Bailey about starting a back-to-school drive

He started collecting supplies for these children when he was 5 years old, and he wants to give them much more.

“If we get enough money, we could buy everything for the little children and they’ll be screaming, ‘Yaaaayyyyy!’ I’m going to try to give everything, everything, everything, everything – I should stop saying everything,” Jalen adds with a giggle.

Mahan says Jalen came up with the collection drive on his own and that she’s floored by it because “that’s something you can’t teach.”

Still, there’s no doubting the positive influence she’s had on her only child. After explaining that she decided to home-school Jalen until last year and make a living working as a nanny from home so she could spend more time with her son, Jalen says this about his mom: “It’s not just so sweet, it’s very, very, very extraordinaaaary sweet! Because my mommy is the best mom on the planet. She’s really great.”

Mahan helped plant the seed for Jalen’s business aspirations. Mahan majored in business at the University of Phoenix in Fresno, and has been teaching Jalen about the virtues of wise money management and entrepreneurship for some time. She says it’s information she wishes someone had taught her as a child, and that she doesn’t want Jalen to have to live “paycheck to paycheck.” She started educating him early, teaching him his first words as an infant. By the time he was old enough to start school, she says a test showed Jalen was already reading at a second-grade level.

It’s the only thing that gets you ahead in life, and you can be successful.

Jalen Bailey about the importance of education

“I have so many big things for him, you know,” Mahan says, “and I’m just like, ‘I want you to try your best. Just figure out what it is that you like, and whatever it is that you like, I’m going to support you 100 percent.’ 

Right now, that means helping Jalen run a bakery from their apartment.

Customers can order Jalen’s baked goods – or a Jalen’s Bakery T-shirt – online at jalensbakery.com, or by calling 559-492-6175, and Jalen will deliver the goods to your doorstep. Mahan says the health department approved a number of recipes, including peanut butter, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies; chocolate and vanilla cakes and cupcakes; and banana nut bread. Customers can request other treats, there’s just a process that must occur before Jalen will submit a new recipe for approval.

Jalen explains: “They can order anything, I just have to satisfy it and try it. I mean, try it, and then satisfy it. And then when me, or at least a toddler that comes to our house can say, ‘It’s good!’ and then me, and I say, ‘It’s good!’ And mommy, then she says, ‘It’s good!’ 

Then – and only then – will Jalen sell you his creations.

If that hasn’t left you convinced that your satisfaction will be guaranteed, imagine Jalen performing a little skit for you, like he did for me:

“I have the cookie,” Jalen explains, holding an imaginary cookie in one hand. “Matter of fact, I have the oatmeal raisin cookie. I don’t even like raisins, and I tried it before, and I was like, ‘This is bomb! This is really good!’ I don’t even like oats or raisins.”

It tastes good. The aftertaste tastes good, and when you taste it, it tastes good, and everywhere when you taste it, it tastes good, and it tastes good all over the place.

Jalen Bailey about the baked goods from Jalen’s Bakery

And if that still hasn’t left you convinced, take it from award-winning Fresno Bee photographer and all-around good guy Craig Kohlruss, who got to see and try a real peanut butter cookie made by Jalen (unfortunately, my interview was not during baking hours).

Kohlruss shared his review with me later: “It was (insert-word-I-want-to-write-but-we-can’t-print) awesome! No joke. Seriously. I had my doubts, but the kid can bake.”

When asked about a secret recipe, Jalen at first says “it’s top secret” (understandable), but then he warms up to sharing.

“My secret recipe is: Made with love!”

Jalen says his cookies, cakes and breads make him “feel happy, smiling … maybe delightful or red-heartwarming,” and that he wants his customers to feel this way, too.

The word “red-heartwarming” is inspired by a picture of a heart in his living room that his mom painted. The heart is set against a background of black stripes “and black absorbs heat,” Jalen explains – so he’s talking about an even warmer-than-average red-heartwarming feeling.

His customers aren’t the only ones taking notice. Jalen’s good heart led Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino last week to award Jalen with the honor of becoming a Superintendent’s Superstar.

“Less than 100 students in Fresno County have been honored as a Superintendent’s Superstar,” Yovino says. “Jalen is among the best of those students. He created his bakery to help his family, which is an example of his kindness and extraordinary heart.”

Of his award, Jalen says: “It made me feel – I wouldn’t say embarrassed, but – it made me feel soooo really really happy! People were watching me, that’s the weird part about it. People were watching me.”

Jalen Bailey, 8, hopes to someday earn enough money baking and selling cookies to buy his mom a house with a big kitchen so they can make even more memories cooking together.

Jalen also caught the attention of staff at GoFundMe, who have been promoting Jalen’s Bakery. Kate Cichy, regional communications manager for GoFundMe, says “Jalen has a uniquely entrepreneurial spirit for someone his age,” and that his campaign is doing very well. As of Sunday, his GoFundMe account had raised more than $4,000 of a $10,000 goal.

Jalen has a message for young aspiring entrepreneurs: “Stay in school. And have big dreams! Like the show, big dreams!”

I ask Jalen about this show, and he explains with a giggle that he’s talking about what he told ABC30 in a recent interview about his bakery.

He is very optimistic about the future of his business.

“I think it will grow and grow – what’s that word I was looking for – constantly! I think it will grow constantly, every day, every hour, every minute, every second! It’s going to grow and keep growing and keep growing and keep growing. One day, it will be as big as the world!” Jalen says, throwing his head back and his arms out wide.

May the world be full with this child’s red-heartwarming love.

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge