Woman's World

“Life is sweeter now than I’d ever dreamed!”

Bounced from foster home to foster home since the time she was a preschoole­r, most people had given up on Shareena Casterline. But Shareena had a dream. And though the odds seemed against her, with love, passion and hard work, she made it come true . . .

- —Kristin Higson-hughes

Lying in the dark, seven-yearold Shareena pulled the blanket up beneath her chin. Living in foster care, she didn’t have much—not in the way of clothes, not in the way of toys and certainly not in the way of attention and love.

Shareena had been only three years old when her parents sent her to live with her grandmothe­r and aunt. But in time, they couldn’t care for her either, and she began bouncing from foster home to foster home.

With nobody consistent in her life, nobody to help her practice, nobody who seemed to even care, Shareena couldn’t even write her name yet. And now, feeling scared and alone, she wondered: Why does nobody want me?

Please, let me get a family. Please let somebody love me!

A sweet new life Over

the next few years, Shareena continued to be sent from foster home to group home. Then, when she was 10, her prayers were answered: She was adopted by Denver couple Nancy and Larry Casterline.

“We’re a forever family now!” they vowed, wrapping their arms around Shareena.

In that house on Madison Street, Shareena had her own room. She went to school every day and got to dance and play with new friends. There, she felt like a normal little girl. She felt loved.

Her favorite thing to do, though, was to bake cookies. And one afternoon when she was 12, her mom handed her a cookbook.

“I bet you can follow this recipe all by yourself,” she winked.

Shareena was in heaven. And when her dad marveled, “You made these all by yourself? They’re delicious!” Shareena felt as though her heart might burst.

For the first time, Shareena was proud of herself.

Excited and inspired, many nights and most weekends, Shareena would bake breads, cakes and pies for her family. But cookies remained her favorite. “When I grow up, I want to have my own bakery!” she announced. And in that moment, Shareena began to believe maybe it could actually come true. After high school, she applied to culinary school. “I got in!” she beamed, and her parents cheered. That summer, when she visited New York City for the weekend with a friend, it struck Shareena: This is where I want to be. So when she graduated from culinary school, Shareena hugged her mom and dad and moved east.

“We’ll miss you every day. But you can do this,” they told her, tears of pride in their eyes.

Still, when she stepped out of the taxi into the heavy summer city heat —the only family she’d ever truly known almost 2,000 miles away— Shareena’s heart began to pound.

What have I done? What if I can’t make it on my own? she panicked.

The taste of happiness

Yeta little voice inside Shareena reminded her: You’re not alone anymore. Your family believes in you. You just have to believe in yourself!

She got a waitressin­g job, socking away every penny toward her business. And, in between shifts and late into the night, Shareena would work on her cookie recipe.

Eventually, she did create a single perfect cookie: a delicate, gluten-free Florentine wafer flavored with Madagascar vanilla and drizzled with chocolate . . . that was just eight calories per cookie!

She called it the Maddy, short for Madison, the name of the street where she finally found a family.

“These are amazing!” her new friends marveled.

Shareena began visiting office buildings and bake shops, offering samples of the Maddy.

“I’ll take all you’ve got!” managers said. And soon, realizing she could reach many more customers without the overhead of running an actual storefront, Shareena created Madison Street Bakehouse (Madisonstr­eetbake house.com) her online bakery.

Over the last few years, she’s built a large, ever-growing customer base and has added chocolate truffles and is designing a wide variety of other cookies.

“I know life can be hard. But it can also be filled with so many moments of joy and bliss,” Shareena smiles. “I want to give people that joy with every bite of my cookies. And I want to remind them that, no matter what they’re going through, they too can follow their bliss!”

“The sky is not my limit. am.” I T. F. HODGE

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