LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — You've seen the "help wanted" signs as local businesses are continuing to struggle in their search to find workers. But a local nonprofit believes the shortage could be a unique opportunity for a community that is often overlooked.
"Special Kneads and Treats, we started almost eight years ago because our son was born with Fragile X syndrome," Michael Kohler explained. "My wife has always been a baker and cake decorator so one day we were talking about what to do when our son ages out of county programs at 22."
Recognizing the lack of opportunities for their son Bradley, Michael and Tempa Kohler opened the doors to their nonprofit bakery in 2014, creating special cakes for kids who can't afford them and giving special needs adults like Bradley a purpose.
"Whether it's stickering and folding towels,all the way up to assistant bakers. We have decorators. We have computer folks now," Michael said.
Some employees have been with Special Kneads and Treats since the very beginning, when the team operated from their original location in Lawrenceville Square. The nonprofit has since moved to its new facility on Scenic Highway.
For some workers, it's the first time someone took a chance and gave them a job.
"That's a big deal when you can hand them a first paycheck, and we've been able to do that for a lot of people," Tempa Kohler said. "You hand somebody a paycheck for the first time that's never had one, that's an amazing feeling."
It's such moments that inspire the nonprofit's work and local support. Thanks to a recent fundraising match opportunity, the Kohler's can now pay off their building mortgage, freeing up funds that will let them hire more people.
But with more than 160 names on their waiting list, the couple knows that they alone can't fill the need.
"So many people call and say we don't have anything like this where we live, we don't have opportunities like this for our special needs adults," Tempa said.
They hope to motivate other businesses who are struggling to find employees to give the special needs community a second look.
"There are so many people out there that don't want to do that job or it's boring," Michael said. "But you know what - repetition and consistency is sometimes just what's needed for someone who has a certain developmental disability. That they can do that every day and they are start to learn more that they can do it more independently."
"Everyone needs to be needed," Tempa added. "If you just change your mindset a little bit and look at the special needs community, they will amaze you."