We were lucky to catch up with Michael Kohler recently and have shared our conversation below.
Michael, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Do you have any thoughts about how to create a more inclusive workplace?
Recently, our 501c3 nonprofit bakery was presented with a challenge in that we had a young lady that was fully blind with a seeing eye dog come up next on our volunteer waiting list. I immediately thought how can we help someone with a seeing eye dog inside a commercial kitchen and overcome the fact that she is blind around hot ovens and sharp objects. I met with her and immediately started thinking outside the box to see how we could embrace her story and ultimately share the amazing journey that might help others realize that everyone “Kneads to be Kneaded”. With regulations preventing animals inside a bakery kitchen we quickly came up with a plan that she and her dog would enter through the back entrance into our storage room and we placed a kennel just inside so that she could be kept warm and safe while our new volunteer could then utilize her cane and go to work. We immediately started figuring out ways that we could utilize her abilities to the best for everyone involved and one of the first things was to create a template from a cutting board that could be placed on a sheet pan for her to be able to place cookie dough in an appropriate pattern for baking. We then invested in a kitchen scale that speaks and placed small raised dots on the microwave in a pattern to know the numbers and start button. We then applied commercial grade grit tape from the entrance in the back down the center of the storeroom and into the kitchen with smaller offshoots to the kennel and restroom. Our plans are to continue this throughout the kitchen and the rest of the facility so that she can utilize her cane to feel the path. These may seem like simple solutions but until we were presented with the challenge we had not thought of these things. These tools also have helped some of our intellectually disabled individuals with their tasks through visual prompts when placing cookies, cleaning floors, or weighing items. We are excited to see what further developments we can make which will open the path for more vision impaired folks to enjoy a safe and rewarding job experience and opportunity.
Michael, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
Michael and Tempa Kohler are co-founders of Special Kneads and Treats, Inc. a 501c3 non-profit organization. This organization was designed with the intention to satisfy the demand special needs adults have to find employment. Simultaneously, ensuring that children and elderly get celebrated on their birthday with a free cake acknowledging their special day.
They created this organization because they have a special needs child that aged out of the system. This resulted in him having no job and nothing to do. They also have a heart for those kids that don’t get celebrated on their special day either because they are in the foster care system or because the parents can’t afford to buy them a cake.
The inspiration began due to the fact that God blessed us with our son, Bradley, whom was born with Fragile X Syndrome resulting in his special needs. It was fully realized upon hearing a 5 year old homeless child state that all he wanted for his birthday was to have a real birthday cake. God commands us to care for the orphans and widows.
The core mission is to share the love of Christ as we try and ensure that any child in our surrounding community that has a birthday and their family cannot afford to purchase a birthday cake can receive one FREE from us through the various agencies that work with those less fortunate. The secondary mission is to provide special needs adults with a safe and rewarding environment where they can learn skills and receive a sense of pride and empowerment. The vision is to establish a distribution point and to have small store fronts around the surrounding communities where special needs can experience the opportunities of a retail like storefront from the heart of their respective cities. This approach will bring more awareness to this wonderful and willing sector of the potential workforce and allow for closer proximity to our partners that serve those less fortunate.
We chose nonprofit because it is not about the income, it is about the Impact and changing lives. Our core focus is to provide for those less fortunate and work with a group of individuals that typically are not getting opportunities in the job market. As a nonprofit we are dedicated to advocating for these individuals as well as focusing on every child deserving of a birthday cake for their special day and not prioritizing on profits. We focus more on the community impact and programs that need assistance or funding that our products cannot achieve. The primary focus of for profit business is to maximize profits and forward these to the owners or shareholders for personal gain first and foremost. This creates the environment to focus on products to support finances and business metrics. While for profit businesses can have some very great causes and philanthropic goals it all boils down to the bottom line and most of the jobs that we do are not conducive to a healthy bottom line. Being a nonprofit also allows us to create jobs like stickering boxes and bags rather than pre ordering a less expensive option that would eliminate these same jobs. Folding the same towels and aprons multiple times during a shift for example is not a very cost effective thing to do but it allows for someone with special needs to have an opportunity for a couple of hours of work. There are several more that if we were to focus on profits we would not be providing these awesome individuals with an opportunity to shine.
With 218 on a waiting list it is pretty clear that this is an area within our society that tends to be overlooked. We focus on special needs adults as they just want to be included and have a sense of purpose and meaning like everyone else. Special needs adults are typically extremely dependable, trustworthy and prideful in most any task assigned.
Special needs individuals can do anything anyone else can do. We need to focus on the ability and not the disability of each person to find out exactly how God has gifted them and for what purpose. Of course special needs individuals have limitations, just like you and I have limitations. We are each God gifted with different talents and abilities and that again is what we try to focus on. Some of our workers can only fold towels or place stickers on items but this is still a critical part of what we do on a daily basis. Some others require one to one job coaching or a para-professional full time.
Special needs adults tend to be extremely responsible and prideful in their assignments as repetition and guidance is very conducive to their needs.
Lastly, a birthday cake is a luxury item and when someone is homeless or in an extremely low poverty situation, a special cake is not an option. Someone living in a group home or rehabilitation facility or even on a very strict low income budget may likewise not have the opportunity or funds to purchase a personalized birthday cake. We are of the opinion that everyone, especially children, deserve to have a personalized birthday cake on their special day.
We are partnered with 3 food cooperatives for example but there are at least 16 here in Gwinnett County alone. We work with around 200 foster children and there are over 800 in Gwinnett. We have even branched out to include elderly and group homes as orphans are not always children. We also provide other sweet treats for various groups and other nonprofits as part of our community efforts.
The long term vision is to establish our facility as a distribution point and to have small store fronts around the surrounding communities where the special needs workers can experience the opportunities of a retail like storefront from the heart of their respective cities. This approach will bring more awareness to this wonderful and willing sector of the potential workforce and allow for closer proximity to our partners that serve those less fortunate. Once this can be established we are hopeful to replicate the model into other counties and eventually other states and across the whole of our great nation. Of course only if that is God’s plan for our mission.
In closing we would like to encourage others to give GOD all the glory and try to think outside the box. Something you might think of as simple as a birthday cake to you might be insignificant but like the child mentioned above, it meant the world. Additionally, try to focus on a person’s abilities rather than the disabilities and you will find yourself amazed at the impact it will have on your life as you witness their GOD given talent. Lastly for business owners, instead of paying a company to do something like shredding documents, hire a special needs who can’t read for a couple of hours to sit and shred them for you. Things like stocking shelves, cleaning tools, sweeping floors, assembly work, doing dishes and any other job that is repetitive is perfect for most special needs if they are just given the chance. May GOD bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you and give you peace.
How do you keep your team’s morale high?
Be the type of leader that believes in your employees when they do not believe in themselves. Lead by permission and example rathe than from a place of authority. Empower and support your employees. Give your employees a chance to succeed and be a part of something bigger than themselves. Continue to do what you been there and done that. Look for opportunities in uncertainties and instabilities. Protect your employees as your children. Look at your employees abilities and talents rathe than their inabilities and faults. Walk the walk and strive to be unforgettable.
Do you have any stories of times when you almost missed payroll or any other near death experiences for your business?
Shortly after procuring our much larger new facility we were faced with a serious cash flow situation as we had utilized all possible resources and credit cards to get the facility up and functional. Cards were maxed out, income was limited, donors were tapped from helping to raise money to renovate and open. My wife and I prayed a lot and knew that God did not bring us this far just to shut the doors and we called and emergency board meeting. A dear friend had his mother contact us and she wanted to see the books to see where she might be able to help us figure out how to overcome the situation as she had spent her career helping the family business with all accounting needs and such to rise to a very successful and thriving business. During the visit and seeing how we maintained a pretty tight ship she moved to offer up a no interest no specific payment loan to get us through a very tough time as long as our board would come up with a longer term solution. Our board met and determined they needed to be more involved and immediate plans were put in place to have our first ever Gala to raise funds that we could use to continue to make the right steps towards our future. Five months later our first ever gala was realized and the impact was tremendous launching into the next few years with an end result being that after our third annual gala the nonprofit has been able to payoff the mortgage and become virtually debt free as we prepare to move into the next stages of our growth and expansion. GOD gets all the glory and we are excited to see where we are led.
- Website: https://www.specialkneadsandtreats.org/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/specialkneads_/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SpecialKneadsAndTreatsInc
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/SpecialKneads_
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClLQmtp9BjLZnClYvUU7nUg
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/special-kneads-and-treats-lawrenceville