"She's putting her whole life into these cookies," said the Rev. Dave Whye, Williams' uncle and her pastor at Shepherd's Life Church of God in Ellicott City.

Williams doesn't have good credit, so she's had to forge her way without a small business loan. She relied on savings, friends and family for start-up costs and still is getting assistance from loved ones, she said.

"My lights are still on, my mortgage is still paid," Williams said. "I don't really need to do anything except what He says every day to do."

Her erratic income is a far cry from her principal's salary of 80 grand. This summer, before she started selling in a retail outlet, she made as little as $2,000 a month.

And everything she makes goes back into the business — for ingredients, for rent and to pay for utilities to keep the ovens going: "You literally turn around everything that comes in," she said.

Beginning in September, Williams started renting space at Cooks 'N Cakes in Ellicott City, where her brownies and cookies are featured alongside the owner's specialty cakes and gourmet cupcakes.

Williams also sells her batches through a website and sets up a booth at events to get her company's name out there.

To staff her vending booth at events she relies on volunteers — "church ladies." She pays them with cookies or brownies that were left in the oven a minute or two too long. She's a long way, she said, from having paid staff.

She has a timeline in her head for her business. She wants to give herself at least another 18 months to make it profitable. Her ultimate goal is to have her own bakery, where people can eat her cookies straight from the oven.

Williams doesn't know if any of that will come to fruition. Only about half of small businesses survive past five years, a figure that has remained steady since at least the mid-1990s, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

But she's not worried, she said: She can only try her hardest, follow her spiritual guide and get joy when she sees people eat her treats "and literally roll their eyes up into the back of their head at the taste."

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

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