- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - Cara Finley has always had two passions: baking and working with special-needs students. Opening her own bakery seemed to her to be an ideal way to combine the two.

Carasmatic Creations is a bakery with made-from-scratch custom items Finley runs out of her home in Sumter.

The bakery specializes in all-occasion cakes, cupcakes, muffins and cookies.

Since the bakery began in 2009, Finley has had special-needs students from her class working part-time in the business.

Leah Glover, 23, has been employed at the business since she was a high school senior at Crestwood High School. Glover does the bookkeeping for Carasmatic Creations.

“I’ve always enjoyed working here, and one day I want to open my own business,” Glover said.

She is an accounting student at Central Carolina Technical College.

Finley said students typically help out after school or on the weekends. A dozen students have helped her out since 2009 from her classes at Crestwood, where she serves as a special-needs teacher. She will serve as a special-needs teacher at Sumter High School in the upcoming school year.

“Typically, I try to get some of the older students,” she said. “Most of them do deliveries, but some help out in the kitchen. Many of the students are excellent artists who help to make the specialty orders.”

Finley said special-needs students do well as entrepreneurs. Before coming to the district, she was a transition trainer in Greenwood. Her job included marketing to businesses to place special-needs students in internship programs and training in those positions.

“My feeling is that a lot of students are left out of the opportunities to pursue internships or jobs because they are special needs,” she said.

Finley said she saw students thrive in the internship placements in Greenwood and went on to paid positions and even some supervisory roles in various businesses.

In Sumter, it was her students who came up with the idea of selling some of her baked goods.

“It just so happened that I was buying a house at the time and decided to start baking in my kitchen,” she said.

After getting certification from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to operate the bakery in her home, and receiving a business license, she started selling her baked goods. In a short amount of time, the business took off. Today, Finley’s small kitchen can bake to serve as many as 300 people at an event.

“We do everything from weddings to birthday parties to special events for various organizations,” she said.

They also do well in specialty cakes, having created everything from Batman to a Clemson Tiger jersey to a ballerina cake with a complete set of edible pink dancing shoes.

All of its products are made from scratch and do not contain cake mixes or starters, she said. They even make their own gum paste flour, a very sweet edible sugar dough usually made from sugar and glucose.

“We use hormone-free eggs, many organic products and purchase many of our ingredients locally to support local businesses,” she said. “We even have gluten-free options for most of our products.”

Finley’s primary customer base comes from the business’ website and social media. Products can be delivered or picked up and even shipped all over the world.

“Because we have customers from the military, we get shipping requests from as far away as Germany and Kuwait,” she said. “We have also shipped as far as New York, Michigan and Iowa.”

Finley also participates in Icing Smiles Inc. Icing Smiles is a nonprofit organization that provides free custom celebration cakes and other treats to families impacted by the critical illness of a child, according to its website.

Finley’s love of art and working with food began when her cornmeal dyed artwork was displayed at the famous Park Avenue Lever House in New York when she was 5 years old.

“This love was transformed into making custom cakes, cupcakes, muffins and cookies,” she said.

Finley is a self-trained baker and has had advanced training from acclaimed cake decorators and sugar artists.

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Information from: The Sumter Item, http://www.theitem.com

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