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American Doer Shareena Casterline: 'The First Time I Realized I Loved Myself Was When I Baked a Chocolate Chip Cookie'

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When Shareena Casterline was told by cynics to “dull down” her ambitions and lower her expectations for the future, she chose not to listen. Instead, she focused on making her childhood dream of opening a bakery a reality—even if that meant doing it all from inside her own tiny New York City apartment.

In PEOPLE’s first episode of American Doers—a new series that features extraordinary people across the U.S. overcoming adversity to achieve their dreams—the Harlem resident reveals the path that led from a life growing up in the foster care system to opening her own online cookie shop, Madison Street Bakehouse.

In the video above, the entrepreneur describes a life that wasn’t always so sweet. At only four years old, her grandmother and aunt abandoned Casterline and her brother. “They decided they didn’t want us and decided not to be home,” she says. “We moved so much. I was 7 years old and I couldn’t write my own name.” But she didn’t let her troubles get her down: “Sorrow has its spectrum and we don’t just like live there. There’s joy and there’s bliss to be had,” says Casterline, who was eventually adopted by Denver parents Larry and Nancy Casterline.

RELATED: How to Bake the Chocolate Chip Cookie of Your Dreams

Happy Marshall Productions
Dorie Hagler
Happy Marshall Productions
Happy Marshall Productions

Finding joy in her adoptive family, Casterline says her passion for baking developed when her parents gifted her with a Nestle Tollhouse cookbook on her 11th birthday. “Baking became an escape from my past and I was able to accept my adoptive family,” she says. “The first time I realized I loved myself was when I baked a chocolate chip cookie; I knew this was my calling.” Not surprisingly, the first item on her bakery menu nods back to those nostalgic homemade treats: her signature Maddie cookies, thin, sweet wafers made of roasted ground almonds and vanilla covered in a dark chocolate drizzle.

RELATED: This Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie Could Be the World’s Most Perfect Dessert

As the owner of her own business, Casterline not only manages the company and runs the website but also bakes the cookies and personally hand delivers them to each customer. “It literally feeds my soul,” she says. “The pure piece of bliss that you would see for like an instant on people’s faces when they would bite into it. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I did that, and you like it.'”

“I don’t want to have any regrets. Let’s fall on our face a few times and actually figure out if this will work,” she says. “The worst that is going to happen is maybe you fall a little bit or a person says ‘no’ — it’s not that bad. If you want to do something, just do it, do it now.”