Faces of the Valley: The Cupcake Girls are integrating inclusivity into their life and baking business

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About nine years ago, two sisters started with a blender and the idea of ​​making small, gourmet cupcakes and big, old-fashioned cookies served with a mix of fun and inclusivity.

Courtney Kobelenske and Kylie Lash, both from Lower Burrell, opened Cora Lee Cupcakes, now based in New Kensington’s Feldarelli Square, providing treats to residents and children, especially young people who might feel left out.

Keto cupcakes, Keto cookies, and pies are all the rage now with low carb, protein, and baked with sugar substitutes. Peanut butter cupcakes, homemade soups and lunches are also popular.

Kobelenske, 47, came up with the idea for Keto candies during the pandemic, which would have “kicked our ass” without it, Lash said.

The sisters, known as the Cupcake Girls among Lower Burrell residents, built a niche bakery that served as a hub and springboard for Kobelenske activism, creating opportunities and experiences for children who could be a bit “eccentric”.

Recently, she successfully hosted an inaugural Alle-Kiski Inclusion Games event featuring activities and games for children who are normally left out of mainstream sports.

“Nobody knows they’re different until people point it out,” Kobelenske said.

Lash added, “We don’t see kids with quirks and extra needs as kids with differences. They are just children. Everyone is a little weird. If we weren’t, it would be a terribly boring place.

It all started with miniature cupcakes.

Kobelenske, with a background in accounting, wanted to open a niche bakery for local children. “We wanted a store that was friendly and welcoming to everyone.”

She enlisted Lash, 43, as her partner. Lash is a professional chef who was happy to apply her culinary expertise and work with a group of young clients.

“We’re just trying to change the world one cupcake at a time,” Lash said.

Since the company is focused on kids, cupcakes seemed like the way to go.

“We do a lot of specialized individual orders in small batches to make it fresh and we don’t waste anything,” Lash said.

The Cupcake Girls are grateful to their families, who if they didn’t participate and help, “we wouldn’t be here,” Lash said.

Their mother, Melissa Smith of Lower Burrell, is “a big part of the glue that makes the place work,” Lash said.

Kobelenske’s daughter, Emma, ​​was involved in her mother’s business and events and is now a paraprofessional for Burrell High School in the life skills class.

The confectionery’s popularity, Kobelenske insists, is due to his daughter, Cora Lee, 17, the company’s namesake, who has autism.

“When Cora comes and hangs out, she’s the best host,” Kobelenske said.

That’s a good thing because many kids on the spectrum tend to be shy, she added.

Kobelenske and her sister have started fundraisers for school programs, which benefit students with special needs and Burrell’s life skills class. Events included bowling, an adult comedy night and dances.

One of Kobelenske’s most visible projects is the Huston Middle School Treat Trolley, which is stocked, managed and operated by students with special needs who sell coffee and candy to school staff and sometimes school officials. Lower Burrell. Cora Lee Cupcakes provides the sweet offerings.

The Treat Trolley was so successful that its proceeds helped create a high school coffee cart.

Both carts continue to be used by students with special needs as part of a training exercise where they “learn important business skills,” Kobelenske said.

The Cupcake Girls also hosted another successful fundraiser for students with special needs: a cookbook in 2021. The students cooked whatever they wanted for the book. The goal was to sell 1,000 books, and they did so, donating the proceeds to life skills programs at Huston Middle School and high school.

“At the end of the day, you can’t say no to her,” said Gregory Egnor, Burrell’s director of student services and supervisor of special education programs.

“Everything she does makes sense,” he said.

Kobelenske bases his projects and fundraisers on what teachers, parents and students tell him he needs.

“She has developed a reputation as an advocate for students with special needs,” Egnor said.

Kobelenske’s contribution to the district helps bridge the student experiences chasm.

“In life skills, academics are a small part,” Egnor said. “Students need to learn life skills and functional work skills to have a meaningful existence in the community. »

Having someone in the community like the Cupcake Girls is invaluable, he said.

All goodwill and good food are the product of living and thriving with physical challenges.

Kobelenske suffers from a muscle disorder that only became prominent after the birth of his two daughters. The disorder, inherited from Emma, ​​affects their gait. Kobelenske calls his particular way of walking “the swag”, lending sophistication and humor to the condition.

During the inclusion games, a little girl walked up to Kobelenske and asked her why she walked a little differently.

“My muscles don’t work so well,” Kobelenske told the girl. “Then she gave me a hug and ran off to play.”

It was a positive interaction that Kobelenske appreciated.

If she could wave a magic wand to change the world around her, she says, “it would be that everyone would be kind.”

Being on the move and living with purpose is one of the ingredients of Kobelenske’s success and a family motto.

By taking care of his walking problems and helping his children overcome their difficulties, there is no ruminating on problems and negative people.

“If you’re an unhappy person, that’s how your kids are going to be and that’s not our family,” she said.

“Do you cry when your kids are having a bad day? Absolutely, but not in front of them,” she said.

Kobelenske simply moves on to the next task at hand.

Mary Ann Thomas is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary by email at mthomas@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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