Local business owner rediscovers her roots at Riverzedge Arts

Local business owner rediscovers her roots at Riverzedge Arts

Jade Shaver of Woonsocket, 29, a former participant at Riverzedge Arts, stands with Artistic Director Brad Fesmire in front of the organization’s studio at 196 Second Ave. Shaver, who is getting ready to open a cake shop and bakery later this year, said Riverzedge Arts had a big influence on her teenage years. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – For Jade Shaver, a Woonsocket resident and soon-to-be owner of her own bakery and cake shop, high school was a turbulent time.

By the time she graduated from Beacon Charter High School for the Arts in 2012, she’d given birth to her first child and had another one on the way. The now-mother of four acknowledged she had a rambunctious personality, and said she’s always been known to do things her own way.

Through those times, however, two things remained constant: the love and support of her mother, Dorene Shaver, and Riverzedge Arts.

“My whole day would focus around it. After school, coming here. It was like a legit job,” she said during a recent interview on the grounds of the arts program’s Fairmount location.

Shaver said she learned about the after-school youth arts program through friends and applied at the age of 15. As a member of the organization’s painting studio, she pursued art projects for public display and was compensated for her work, a first for a budding young artist hoping to become an illustrator.

Along with advancing her art skills, Shaver learned to use her outgoing personality to help those around her. Brad Fesmire, who served as an instructor when the organization was located in a former mill building on Market Square, said Shaver was often chosen from among her peers to lead tours and speak with clients and potential funders about her experience.

“It’s almost like you’re training to be an adult. I feel like I was a goofball my whole life, but at least when I was at Riverzedge, I was trying to be more serious,” Shaver said.

After graduation, however, the difficulty of pursuing her art dreams through adulthood quickly became evident. Shaver said she “dropped off the face of the earth for a little bit” as she struggled to raise two babies with a less-than-supportive ex. She tried to attend art school at the Rhode Island School of Design, but found the structured program and serious teaching philosophy a far cry from the student-driven, free-spirited projects she’d worked on at Riverzedge. Shaver said Riverzedge allowed an artist to “put your soul” into projects, something she couldn’t quite capture at the college-level program.

On a whim, she applied for a job as a cake decorator at the Bellingham Stop & Shop on Pulaski Boulevard. That’s when she discovered there were more ways to become an artist than canvas and paint.

“Something awoke in me. It was like, OK, you can add art in food, why didn’t anyone tell me? That was amazing,” she said.

Soon, customers were coming from all over to purchase a “Jade cake” from Stop & Shop. Shaver said her first creation outside the store’s bakery counter was a Dr. Seuss-themed cake for her sister’s baby shower. She looks back on that cake now with an artist’s critical eye, but the cake was a hit with family members who soon began putting in their own requests.

In 2018, she decided to make her culinary education official. She started in an associate’s program at Johnson & Wales University that allowed her to fit 12 hours of classes in each Sunday, leaving time during the week for work, parenting, and now her growing side business making cakes. Shortly after beginning the program, she learned she was pregnant with her fourth child, but wouldn’t be deterred. She gave birth over the summer, returning to class nine days later to finish her degree.

This spring, she graduated with an associate’s degree in baking and pastry. Since the start of the pandemic, she’s taken a job as a chocolatier and candymaker at Bertie’s Creative Creamery in Milford, Mass., but said working behind someone else’s counter isn’t her final stop. Later this summer, she plans to formally launch her bakery under the name Jade’s Flour Shop out of the Millrace Kitchen at 40 South Main St.

“It’s addicting, when you make a product for a customer, and they love the way it tastes, it’s the best feeling,” she said.

Earlier this year, she reconnected with Fesmire and the crew at Riverzedge Arts when she hired them to create her new business logo. Fesmire, who now serves as artistic director at the organization’s new location on Second Avenue, said it was a “beautiful full circle story” to see a past participant return as a client.

“It gives me goosebumps to think about. This is why we’re here,” he said.

Shaver said without the support from Riverzedge, Fesmire and her mom, she doesn’t know where she’d be today. While at the organization, she learned to develop a work ethic and rely on participants and staff members for support.

“I just think having the support, it definitely means everything to some people,” she said. “Because some people don’t have that when they come home.”

According to Larry Warner, chief impact and equity officer for United Way of Rhode Island, that support through out-of-school programs is becoming increasingly rare for local students. In 2019, the organization conducted a study that found for every child who participates in an after-school or summer program, there’s one whose parents are unable to find or afford one. Since that time, he said, the demand has only grown.

“As we as a state look at strategies to mitigate learning loss that would typically happen during the summer anyway, but also as a result of the pandemic, I think we have to think hard about how we support our youth in that 80 percent of the time that they spend out of the classroom,” he said.

The organization recently committed $4.5 million in community impact grants to address those and other issues in the community, including a $74,977 grant to Riverzedge Arts. Fesmire said the funding will be used to relaunch a digital media studio that shut down a few years ago due to funding restrictions, allowing them to take on six new student artists.

For Shaver, the opportunity to set down roots at Riverzedge was the start of a lifelong journey to pursue her artistic passions. At 29, she’s now on the cusp of launching a business and looking to purchase her first home.

“It is such an amazing place for young people. This is the spark of so many things,” she said.