23 Aug 2014
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Walkabout Program Helped Budding ‘Cupcake Queen’

Walkabout Program Helped Budding ‘Cupcake Queen’

It took an audition for “Cupcake Wars” for Christine Alaimo’s bakery business to really heat up.

The 26-year-old was working in a science laboratory and decorating cakes on the side when she auditioned for the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” – and got as far as the final cut. The experience not only gained her more clients, it helped her realize she wanted to take her business – Confectionery Therapy – to the next level.

She thought back to an expression she learned as a Briarcliff High School senior in the Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES Walkabout program: “Take a leap to reach your dream.” And it helped her make a decision to pursue her passion for “edible art” on a full-time basis. Next month, she will join the Heisler Bakery on North Avenue in New Rochelle, which will begin featuring her creations of cupcakes, cake pops and other items.

Christine said that her year in Walkabout, a unique year-long program for college-bound students, certainly taught her to dream. Just as importantly, it taught her how to make those dreams a reality by teaching important life skills along with academic subjects. She learned how to set short- and long-term goals, manage her time and develop her talents. She learned not to be afraid of challenges, but instead to create realistic plans for meeting them.

“I was a sponge for the program,” said Christine, who now lives in the Bronx. “It really helped me to become the person I am today. There are just so many things in my life that I relate back to what I learned at Walkabout.”

Back in high school, Christine was an aspiring artist looking for a different way to spend senior year.  She first heard about the Walkabout program from older friends in Briarcliff. Walkabout students earn a full year of academic credit by attending classes on the BOCES campus. In addition, they engage in a five-week service-learning project, a 10-week internship, and spend two weeks backpacking. During their internship and service assignment, students attend classes at BOCES one day a week.

Christine said she loved the program’s supportive atmosphere and sense of community. A favorite part of the day was “New and Goods,” when faculty and students shared what was going on in their lives.

“Kids who had never spoken up in class were suddenly sharing what was going on in their lives,” she recalled. Like many others, Christine gained confidence in the Walkabout program, which has been named one of the top 40 experientially oriented programs in the United States by the National Institute of Education. 

When Christine did an internship at a glass-blowing shop, she was more interested in art than business. But the experience provided lessons that are helping her now.

“That was really my first look at running a business,” she said.

After Walkabout, Christine earned a college degree in fine arts at SUNY Purchase. During that time, she took a cake-decorating class for fun and remembers learning to bake simply to have an edible canvas. Her skills came in handy when she moved to England after college to pursue an accelerated Master’s program. She found work decorating ice-cream cakes and was soon tackling wedding cakes and other orders.

After earning her Master’s degree in special education and returning to New York, Christine has spent the last two years working at a neuroscience laboratory, a subject she became interested in during graduate school. But she continued to bake cupcakes and cakes on the side. Christine found she liked creating artistic designs for clients and knowing that they loved showing them off – just before they got gobbled up. 

For now, Christine will devote herself to her new business opportunity with Heisler Bakery. But she named her business Confectionery Therapy for a reason: because she hopes she can help autistic children by teaching them baking skills. She’s continuing to look for a way to make that happen. And Christine said her days at Walkabout taught her she can make things happen.

She still remembers managing to complete a backpacking trip despite being very out of shape at the time. “For a while after that when I was faced with having to do something hard, I’d think: Wait, I just climbed a mountain. It totally gives you confidence to do all kinds of things.”

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