A Baker’s Vision


By Claire Bunker

Innovative Dream BuildersIt was temporary blindness that led Tacoma resident, Crystle Rivera, to focus on a vision of what she plans to accomplish in life.

In 2003, after studying child psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, IL, Rivera, decided to gain some practical, hands-on experience by accepting a job as a live-in nanny to four-month-old Trevor.  While she enjoyed caring for the little boy, she soon found she needed some adult interaction and decided to take up a new hobby.

tacoma custom cake
Crystle Rivera began decorating cakes when she was 24 and working full-time as a nanny.

“I saw an ad for a cake decorating class at a local Michael’s Craft Store,” Rivera explained.  “And although I hadn’t considered cake decorating before, the class fit my limited schedule and budget.  By no means was I a natural, but I found I liked it.”

Eventually, Wilton, a national company that provides baking and cake decorating products and classes, contacted Rivera to suggest she consider becoming one of their cake decorating instructors.  The then 24-year-old was excited by the opportunity to supplement her income that she earned as a nanny.

While waiting for Wilton to line up her classes, Rivera noticed a change in her eyesight.  As the problem persisted, she went to the emergency room where she was misdiagnosed with pink eye and sent home with eye drops.   A week later, Rivera woke up completely blind.  She spent a week at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she was diagnosed with optic neuritis, a swelling of the optic nerve, which is the bundle of nerve fibers that transmit visual information to the brain from the eye.  Ironically, it was during her hospital stay that Wilton called with the details of the classes they had scheduled for her to teach, a plan that was now put on hold.

Despite her loss of eyesight, Rivera, who was never given an exact cause of her condition, went on with her life.  Although she had moved back in with her parents, she continued to work as a nanny thanks to a team of occupational therapists who taught her how to function without her eyesight.

“They put bells on Trevor’s’ socks so that I knew where he was when he crawled.  They marked his bottles with puffy paint so I knew how to mix up his formula,” she explained.

tacoma custom cakeCompletely blind for one year, her sight began to slowly return, although she was still considered legally blind as she dealt with problems of depth perception and shadowy vision.  Despite this setback, with her family’s support, she took Wilton up on their offer to lead cake decorating classes.

“Because I couldn’t really see, I had to fully focus on what I was doing, like the position of the decorating bag and the pressure I was putting on it, or really concentrating on the feeling of working with fondant,” explained Rivera.

She did eventually get her sight back although she has lasting issues including color blindness and extreme sensitivity to light.  While she continued to teach Wilton cake decorating classes, when Trevor began kindergarten, Rivera needed another career.  Again inspired by her psychology education, she worked as a job developer, placing adults with various physical and developmental disabilities in community-based organizations.

“I did that for seven years, until I began wondering about the next stage of my life.  Then a friend reminded me of something I had said a few years earlier, something I myself had forgotten,” recounted Rivera.

As a job developer trying to find places for clients to work, she regularly had to deal with potential employers refusing to consider hiring a person with a disability.  Rivera’s friend reminded her that she had once wished she owned her own business so that she could hire people with disabilities, giving them a job and a chance to do something meaningful.

tacoma custom cakeEncouraged by her friend’s support, the seemingly always energetic and upbeat Rivera is now fully focused on opening her own retail bakery and employing people with disabilities.  “I want a business that will be a sustainable part of a community,” the thirty-two year old says assuredly.

While she is currently working on putting together the funds needed for a bricks-and-mortar bakery, Crystle is finding success as a baker and cake decorator through her online business, Crystle’s Cake Affair.  Rivera prides herself on the fresh, high-quality taste of her cakes, which are made to order, never frozen.  And while she delivers a tasty treat, most notably, Rivera’s cakes are visually stunning creations designed to be the eye-catching centerpiece of any celebration.

An ironic twist considering she began developing her craft while working to regain her own eyesight.

Crystle Rivera’s cakes begin at $30.  To order, contact her at crystle@crystlescakeaffair, call her at (253) 226-2161, or connect with her via Facebook.


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