On this Dad to Dad podcast, host David Hirsch talks to Special Kneads and Treats bakery co-founder/owner Michael Kohler. Michael is the father of two young adults, Ashley and Bradley, who at age 29, has Fragile X Syndrome. Michael talks of family, work and how he and his wife Tempa formed the Special Kneads and Treats bakery that employs young adults with special needs. They also provide free birthday cakes for kids whose families can’t afford them. Go to www.specialkneadsandtreats.org to find out more. Learn more about Fragile X syndrome at www.fragilex.org.
Dad to Dad 77 – Co-Founder/Owner Michael Kohler’s Special Kneads & Treats Bakery Employs Dozens with Special Needs Including Son w Fragile X
Michael Kohler: My 29 years with a child with special needs has made me a better person. It’s taught me patience. It’s taught me understanding empathy. It’s taught me to think outside the box.
Tom Couch: That’s Michael Kohler, father of two young adults, Ashley and Bradley, who at age 29 has fragile X syndrome. Michael talks of family work and how he and his wife, Tampa formed the special needs and treats bakery that employs young adults with special needs and also provides free birthday cakes for kids whose families can afford them.
That’s all on this dad to dad podcast. Here’s our host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad, podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs. Presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for dads to support dads, to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help for we’d like to offer help. We’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s listen in on this conversation between special father Michael Kohler and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend, Michael color of Lawrenceville, Georgia, who was the father of two grandfather of three and co founder, owner of special needs and treats that’s kneads spelled K N E A D S. Michael. Thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview, the Special Fathers Network .
Michael Kohler: Thank you for having me.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Tempa had been married for 35 years and the proud parents of two children, daughter, Ashley, 34 and son Bradley 29, who has fragile X let’s start with some background. Tell me, where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Michael Kohler: I grew up basically in the independence Missouri area, not too far from the Kansas city chiefs and Kansas city Royals stadiums.
My wife and I actually first met in kindergarten then. We went kind of separate ways. I eventually went to a private Christian school for several years. And then in my sophomore year, I went back into the public school system and that my now wife again, and there was a small voice one day in the lunch room that.
Had to be from God, is that I said, there’s the woman you’re going to marry. And at seven, you know, 16, 17 years old, it’s kind of like, wait a minute. Who said that? And what’s going on proceeded to, uh, Let’s use the term court her for a while before she actually took notice, even signed up for a home-ec class that we actually were partnered together and did a mock wedding.
And lo and behold, we were truly married at 17 years old while still in high school. Our first child was actually basically my graduation gift.
David Hirsch: Oh.
Michael Kohler: My, uh, so had our first child at 18. That was Ashley five years later, we had a little boy. And when he was born, there was, uh, some differences. Uh, you know, all children are different, but they are all, as I have learned now, a blessing from God, we weren’t a church going family, so to speak, uh, during those times.
So teenage pregnancy, teenage marriage. And as you said in the lead in, uh, 35 years now of marriage, Pretty proud of that.
David Hirsch: I want to talk about your family. Oh, okay. When you grew up in independence.
Michael Kohler: Gotcha. So when you were growing
David Hirsch: up in independence, did you have siblings?
Michael Kohler: Yes, I, um, I had a sister who was born 11 years after me.
That, um, was pretty much. I’m not quite sure the best way to put that, but you know, when you have 11 year age difference, she was always hanging around with me. She was, you know, the little sister. So I do have the one sister, but, uh, everywhere I went, she was a tag along which good and bad. You know, you, uh, you kind of use some of those things to chat with girls.
They loved the little, the little sister and then, uh, my mom and dad. My dad was a steel worker, worked for a company called arm coast steel in the Kansas city area and retired from there. Actually, my mother worked for the postal system. Uh, I like to say my entire family was postal because my grandmother was a postmistress.
My mother worked for the postal company. My aunt worked for the post office, my great uncle. So our entire family had a lot of postal jobs and, um, Grew up in independence, Missouri did a lot of hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, different things with my dad. Uh, as we grew up, uh, we weren’t a real church family though.
So I w I didn’t have that. My third place was not church. Like we, you know, like now, today we, we try and do with our children, our grandchildren we’d love that for it to be their third place. My son, uh, more so than, than what we did with my daughter. Cause you know, jumping ahead a little bit, my wife and I spent about 20 years of our 35 year marriage unchurched.
David Hirsch: Okay. So when you think about your dad and the relationship with your dad, what are some of the more important takeaways or lessons that come to mind?
Michael Kohler: I guess the biggest ones were dad was, was very, uh, Very athletic inclined. You know, he would jog with me. He would have me when I was doing it basketball, he would say, okay, as you’re jogging, let’s dribble the basketball the entire way.
Hey, why don’t you do a hundred free throws every evening so that you can improve your game? Pretty avid hunting. We went boat fishing did a lot of archery. Did some archery tournaments shot. A lot of guns had me driving a truck. At 12 years old, you know, I can remember going hunting in the woods, like of the Ozarks and I’m actually getting, I loved it because I always got to drive the truck.
I could drive it in the woods, drive it on the back roads, you know, things of that nature. Got it. You know, some of the more interesting experiences were, you know, maybe we shouldn’t mention, but, uh, you know, your, your first taste of alcohol in a tree stand 12 or 13 on a freezing cold day with a little bit of Brandy and then a few Slater, you’re shooting a deer with a 30, 30 rifle.
David Hirsch: So when you think about your dad’s more important characteristics, what would you think about that?
Michael Kohler: Uh, at the time, probably didn’t give it a whole lot of thought, but now as I’m older and I understand more about dad and what have you, is the fact that even in the background, God was always present.
It’s not that we sat down and read through the Bible or not that we sat down and actually had yeah. You know, scripture and memorization and things of that nature. But. For the most part during my childhood dad, you know, dad was there. He wanted to spend time with me. He wanted to do that male bonding, you know, growing as a man, so to speak.
Those are the things that really stick out to me.
David Hirsch: Is your dad still alive?
Michael Kohler: Yes, sir. He actually is. He likes to say he summers in Missouri. And winters in Texas. He likes to travel around a bit, not so much now as he’s getting a little older, but dad’s the, uh, to this day is pretty much the epitome of health.
He brags about doing a hundred, 150 pushups every day. That was his pull ups. He eats a lot of healthy foods, tries to do everything. Naturally tries to avoid doctors and things of that nature. So, uh, His genetic serve are pretty good.
David Hirsch: Well, from your lips to God’s ears, I’m hoping you have some of those genetics as well.
Michael Kohler: Yeah. We’re working on that
David Hirsch: and your occupation might get in the way of that by the way.
Michael Kohler: Yeah. True. True. But, um, right now it’s winter. So he’s down in Texas. He likes to golf a lot. Now. That’s how he gets his exercise walking the golf course. He doesn’t use a golf cart. Um, his big thing for the longest time was he actually would, uh, build and make custom Harleys.
It’s kind of funny that geographically, if you know where Missouri is and where Georgia is, he would come to visit from Missouri to Georgia by way of maybe going through Mississippi, Alabama, and across. And then he would go home up the Eastern seaboard and across cause he just. Would meander for lack of a better term.
David Hirsch: And this was on one of his custom Harleys or,
Michael Kohler: uh, yeah. Um, basically he took a Harley that he found in pieces at a flea market and a rebuilt. It did his own wiring diagram, rewired it completely the way he wanted it wired. I think he was college educated that way. He was more of the. Mechanical engineering style.
When he worked at a steel mill, he was in what’s called like a number two melt shop or something like that. And he helped design some of the machinery and you know, more of that type of a mindset.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. It sounds like he’s very hands on, good with his hands and mechanically inclined. And it sounds like a great role model, right?
From when you’re growing up, that your dad was actively involved in your life and exposed to a lot of different things outdoors. No, I think it’s building a sense of confidence and I don’t know that it’s manhood per se, but, uh, you know, not everybody’s had that
Michael Kohler: experience. Correct? Correct.
David Hirsch: So I’m thinking about your grandfather’s, um, perhaps starting on your dad’s side and then, uh, on your mom’s side, uh, what influence did they have?
Michael Kohler: My grandfather on my dad’s side, all I. Remember the most part was he drove a cement truck for the majority of my life. They did a lot of concrete work, which with what’s called the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, you know, and the Truman reservoir, uh, did a lot of the concrete work there with pouring of footing and, you know, people’s docks.
Yeah. Driveways and things of that nature. And yeah, I got to see emotionally weekends and sometimes during the summer. And it was always so much fun because we would go down to grandpa’s and, um, Before my sister came along. Cause again, I was 11 before she actually came along. Uh, we would go hunting. We would, you know, go skiing, boating, fishing, and it was just always fun to go down and run around the woods with grandpa.
I always remember him being a giant of a man. He was like six, three, six, four, you know, grandpa could do anything know. He was also very active, very, very fit. My grandparents were divorced at that time. And I spent more time with my grandfather on my dad’s side than, uh, than my grandmother on my dad’s side.
But it was a lot of, uh, that outdoorsy kinda, you know, macho kind of stuff.
David Hirsch: Okay. That’s probably where your dad got it then
Michael Kohler: I believe. So.
David Hirsch: How about on your mom’s side, did your grandfather and your mom? So I played
Michael Kohler: influence on my mother’s side, my real. Biological grandfather. My mother didn’t know too well.
He was military and she was very young when he and my grandmother on her side were no longer together. The grandfather, I know for the most part of my childhood life was a grandpa Ray. And that was mom’s adopted father,
David Hirsch: maybe a stepfather.
Michael Kohler: Yeah, stepfather. Sorry. That’s the best approach. He also lived at the Lake.
And he, and my, uh, grandmother, Susie, which was also a step grandmother at this point. Um, cause there was another divorce there, but, uh, so it kind of a history of divorce on both my grandparents’ sides. And then he, my parents also divorced when I was 21, but, um, My grandfather there. That was where grandma Susie, when I’d go to the Lake, not only did I get to run around the woods and make forts and shoot squirrels and stuff like that, but she exposed me to the Southern Baptist kind of background where the Bible thumping fire and brimstone pastor.
Okay. That was my first exposure to the church setting for lack of a better term. And, um, went to summer church camp. And that’s where actually I think I was maybe 12 or 13 where, um, all the kids were doing it and I took the plunge. I was baptized for the first time in the day, the Ozarks with that, uh, elderly pastor and my first taste of.
Old school. I’m going to use the term hillbilly style of gospel music, you know, with your band Joes and things to that nature. Got it. But it was good old, you know, gospel, hymns, and, and then some gospel music, which I think is what today, why my son is just a, he’s a praise. Wow. He loves praise music. He would rather sit in front of the TV, watch the Gaithers and, um, praise worship all day long than do anything else.
David Hirsch: That’s interesting. We’ll get to that. So, um, any other father figures growing up in addition to your dad, your grandpa’s step grandfather, anybody that played an influential role?
Michael Kohler: I actually had two uncles. Uh, I guess that would be great uncles on my father’s side, they were my grandfather’s brothers.
Uh, one had a dairy farm in Missouri and the other had a hog farm in Missouri. So I got to occasionally spend time on the farms, whether it was bailing hay, milking cows, um, Slopping hogs doing the farm boy stuff. It was a lot of really cool exposure as well, because it gave me a taste of that to where you’re up early, like I say, rising with the chickens.
Um, and then, you know, big family meals. So I would say uncle Hershel and uncle John uncle Herschel more so because he was closer. To town. Uh, he lived not too far from independence, Missouri. That was a pretty cool experiences to, to remember that I called him uncle Herschel and aunt Libby, even though they were great uncle and great aunt.
Okay. And then later in my life, you know, being married at 17, you’re still a kid.
David Hirsch: You don’t think about it then, but you look back on it and you realize you were super young.
Michael Kohler: Exactly. Exactly. So I guess as another father figure, my wife was raised in the church. She was raised Pentecostal. So a very influential father figure,
excuse me, sorry about that. Um, then took, I’d get this emotional, a very influential father figure would have been my, my father in law. What’s his name? His name is Roy
David Hirsch: Roy.
Michael Kohler: Okay. And, uh, we didn’t exactly start off on the right foot because in his mind, I, I kinda stole his. Maybe curl and, uh, her being raised Pentecostal, I mean, not being raised truly in the church.
There was a lot of, a lot of stress, a lot of turmoil, but seeing his example of how he loved his family, how he cared for his family provided and, uh, was a huge godly example of a. Of what a Christian man should be
David Hirsch: truly powerful.
Michael Kohler: He, uh, like I say, it wasn’t always that way, but he and I started off with, uh, Well, I’ll just put a real quick and that, uh, at one point I was called the son of Satan and he threatened to kill me and I threatened to break his legs and, Oh my, and then that’s sweet for dress.
And grandchildren came along, everything just changed. And I actually was a primary speaker at his funeral when he passed away.
David Hirsch: How long ago was that?
Michael Kohler: It’s been wow. I want to say at least 11 years, my wife knows to the day, but he died around Thanksgiving time. Uh, actually choked to death on a piece of steak at a, at a restaurant.
David Hirsch: Oh my God.
Michael Kohler: But, uh, it was an honor
David Hirsch: to speak
Michael Kohler: his funeral.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, of all the men you’ve just made reference to. It sounds like the one that you had the closest bond to was your father-in-law and I’m not taking anything away from your dad or your
Michael Kohler: grandfather’s or your
David Hirsch: grand uncles, but, um, you know, just to hear you relay with the emotion in your voice, the role that he played in your life and the fact that it wasn’t a straight line that, you know, you started out on some pretty shaky ground, if you will, you know, um, That’s I think God working through each of us and it’s an amazing testimonial.
So, um, cheers to Roy. I’m the role model that he was to you? Yeah,
Michael Kohler: exactly. I think that’s, that is, is huge. You know, I could see all along how God works now. And when you look back on it, through all the struggles, the storms that come the valleys, the hard times, looking back and seeing how God used that. And molded that into, uh, the man I am
David Hirsch: today.
Yeah. Well, you can look backwards and connect the dots, so it would be almost impossible to look forward and kind of connect the dots.
Michael Kohler: Exactly.
David Hirsch: Anyway, thank you for sharing. So, um, you got married at a super young age, become teen parents, which is another. You know, hot button for me, you know, helping dads, men who become dads inadvertently in most cases before they’re even the age of 20, you know, I’ll
Michael Kohler: just say
David Hirsch: anecdotally, as a reminder, that the male brain is understood not to be fully formed until age 25.
So if you became a dad at
Michael Kohler: 18, that
David Hirsch: means you had seven years of some brain development to go. Um, so. It’s just amazing that Ashley and Bradley have turned out the way they have despite your deficits. And, um, when you left high school, what is it that you were doing? What, where did your career take you?
Michael Kohler: Um, well and real quickly on what you just said, you know, that that seven years of brain development, that’s a perfect segue for me to say that, you know, our marriage was, you know, seven years of honeymoon, four years of really tough trials that we had to fight through.
And then the rest has been like a second honeymoon. Um, and just awesome. But, um, during high school, actually, before I even graduated, I worked two jobs, both part time, uh, in the evening, one in the evening and the one late into the early mornings. And then I’d go to school for half day and then back to work.
And then after. Finishing high school worked a couple of jobs, got a full time job. I worked primarily in my dad’s industry was, you know, the steel mill, like I said, but he also did a brakes for vehicles on the side. He did stainless dual Corvette brakes. So that put me in touch with some of his contacts to where my first full time with benefits job was actually a.
You know, this term’s not the best, but a sweat shop where I would tear down breaks and, uh, you know, click the clicker, you know, and you had a quota and, you know, you had so many, you had to do in an hour and so many per shift and things of that nature where we would tear them down, clean them up, rebuild them, et cetera, et cetera.
So that was kinda my first job there. And that made me realize early on that, uh, I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. And you know, my dad. With what he did and that, I just really didn’t think I was cut out for that grind. It was not enjoyable. So not too long after that, I started down the path of, uh, just trying to find my fit, not knowing that God was actually working everything out.
And I landed a delivery job with a industrial. Dealership that provided, you know, forklifts and pallet jacks and things of that nature. And then from that, I moved into the warehouse, uh, started doing stock polling and inventory. Then I moved into a parts counter. Then I became a parts person. Then I became an assistant parts manager, then a parts manager.
And as I worked up through that field eventually landed with a larger dealership for a Caterpillar dealership. Uh, and that took me more into the, uh, operations side. And then from there, back in the, I think it was the mid eighties when yeah. And the forklifts for Caterpillar were actually being made by a company called out of Korea.
Their contract was up and Daewoo decided to come to the U S market with their own product labeled as de woo. And they targeted several different Caterpillar type people. Uh, I happen to be one of those. So I started working for the OEM level and, um, came out of retail, came out of dealership level and started into the OEM original equipment manufacturing level to where we supplied dealers across the country.
And that’s where my knowledge and, and understanding grew. I did not go to college. Uh, so I’m not a college educated man. I came through the school of what they say, you know, street smarts and hard knocks and just applying and looking for opportunities and, and doing the best job I could to learn everything I could and continue to grow.
And, um, worked for Daewoo for many years day was a great company for me, both financially, personally, and just the business knowledge growth Daewoo at that time was in, uh, the Kansas area. It was 1998. That day we had decided to consolidate, uh, they were shutting down different facilities and they were moving to Georgia and offered me a position to move here with my family.
And it came at a time again, God orchestrated that was a rough time for our family. That was during that time of that four years of challenge. And, and it was a fresh start for us as a family. We chose Gwinnett County. Here in Georgia because of their special needs programs for our son who has fragile extant and, um, got plugged into the school systems and then eventually into the programs.
But day was what brought us to Georgia. And then Zen from there, I moved to, uh, a Japanese and he’s company called Takiyuchi, which was, uh, Compact construction equipment. I like to say it was toys for boys to dig in the dirt, but, uh, almost six years ago in 2014, when I was being provided yet another opportunity with a company to do more and travel, we took a huge leap of faith and I approached the president of the company and said, ah, no, where my wife and I have decided we’re going to try and start a.
A bakery to employ special needs and to give back in our community. And, um, surprisingly he, uh, his immediate response was can I pray for you and what are we going to do to work services?
David Hirsch: That’s amazing. That is truly amazing.
Michael Kohler: Yeah.
David Hirsch: I want to talk a little bit about the special needs on a personal level. And then we’ll what we’ll do in a few minutes is transition back because I know that was a really important flex point in your career in your life.
Michael Kohler: Correct.
David Hirsch: Before Bradley was born, did you or Tampa have any connections to the special needs community
Michael Kohler: we did through family?
Again, I think it was God working. I grew up with a aunt, my dad’s sister who had some mental afflictions. And at the time we didn’t know, we weren’t told, you know, what was wrong with aunt Pat, but she obviously was different mentally. Uh, she was. You know, ambulatory, you know, and pretty high functioning for the most part, but there was, you know, there was disconnects.
Uh, so I had that exposure as a child and growing up, but we just didn’t know. We weren’t told a whole lot. It was just, you know, aunt Pat special. And then my wife, Tempa her family, a lot of her extended family and close family. There were various levels of, uh, different types of special needs. Again, it wasn’t.
Talked about a whole lot as to what the diagnosis was or what their disorder may be, or, or disability or things of that nature. But on her side, everything from nonverbal wheelchair bound, limited motor skills, all the way up to the fragile X level. For those, those who don’t know fragile X syndrome, it’s a genetic disorder.
It falls on the X chromosome, but it can cause everything from very severe. Intellectual disorders and some physical, all the way up to extremely high functioning, kind of like the autism spectrum, you know, it’s can run the gamut. So I didn’t know that about my wife’s family and when I met her, you know, but then over the years and you start meeting other family and you start hearing other things.
And so she had probably more exposure than I did. I had some with my aunt Pat, but I do recall that, you know, coming up through my school age years and what happened have you that I have to attribute everything positive to God. So my positive thoughts on, you know, at school, when you’d see someone with special needs, a lot of the guys, you know, they want to, at that age, kids are cruel and, you know, they want to make jokes.
They want to make fun. I kind of, uh, took a different approach. I could remember. You know, kind of standing up for a couple of the guys, you know, and asking them, how would you feel? I feel that that happened to you and, and different things like that, but I wasn’t really tight knit into any one group per se, but I have to think that was God that was playing on me, playing on my emotions and using me to mold me for, for what we were to experience later.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it is amazing. Like we talked about earlier, you can only look backwards and realize yeah. That you can move. You have to matter at the time. And, um, kids can be cruel. Uh, not because they’re mean spirited, but
Michael Kohler: they’re just, you know, kids, right? Yeah, exactly.
David Hirsch: They’re not aware they don’t have an appreciation or understanding.
Remember their brains aren’t fully formed. Correct. You know, we all look back, you know, What would you tell your younger self, right?
Michael Kohler: Whether you were
David Hirsch: 25 or 35 or 45,
Michael Kohler: right.
David Hirsch: We’re all evolving. And hopefully we’re better people as a result of the experiences that we’ve had. So let’s dig in a little bit. Uh, Bradley was diagnosed with fragile X.
Uh, what age was he diagnosed at?
Michael Kohler: Uh, he was, uh, he was seven until we actually discovered what his true diagnosis was. So for the first seven years, we, uh, There was just something different. He wouldn’t speak, he would scream every time we go somewhere in public. There was a lot of stress on us as young parents, as a young couple, uh, on his sister.
Fortunately, you know, he had his sister, so that like at daycare or what have you, she would take up for him. She would protect him. Know, we had been to many psychologists. We had many different people that said, you know, well, he’s some signs of downs, but he’s not down syndrome. There’s, you know, some of this, but it’s not that they, we were told that he would never speak.
We were told that, you know, there were just certain other things. And then one day we talked to a child psychiatrist, cause we were trying to figure out, you know, this kid’s seven years old, you know, he’s not talking, he’s not advancing. What do we do? And, uh, she had asked us, have you ever had him tested for fragile X?
And we were, we all, we both looked at each other and said, you know, well, she is, you know, it was a chromosomal issue. It was a genetic thing that was, would be passed from basically from a female to a male or a female to a female. And then from a male to a female, but never from a male to a male, because it is the X chromosome, you know, and girls are two Xs.
Boys are an X and a lie. So we were like, well, what does it entail? It was a simple blood test. Uh, she said, it’s a DNA check. And, and the most simplistic way of putting that as our DNA strand is a series of numbers. And at certain intervals, those numbers will repeat. Well, most of us have, you know, very few repeats, whereas the more severe of fragile X is the more repeat.
So if it repeats 213 times your number strand, you’re more severe than someone who may repeat seven times, for example. Got it. So we said, sure, draw the blood, having tested. We’ve tried everything. And you know, what’s, this is going to hurt, you know, poor kid probably been prodded and poked and tested on all this other stuff.
And we just, we were searching for answers. And on the way home, we stopped by the local library. And my wife picked out the, I think they only had two or three books at the time. And one was called the fragile X child and check them out. Okay. Way home. She’s reading the book and she’s just. Got this look of shock.
And she said, they’ve written a story about Bradley.
David Hirsch: Oh my God.
Michael Kohler: So we knew before the test came back, that, uh, yeah, he’s got fragile X, you know, now what? And then a few days later we actually get the test results and we weren’t surprised, uh, they said he has fragile X. So we were like, okay, what are the next steps now?
What do we do now that we have a diagnosis now, how do we approach this for him to have. I use the term a higher quality life, but I’m telling you, these, these kids are wonderfully made by God for a plan and a purpose. Every one of them. Anyway, we, uh, we were told that the leading experts were in Denver, Colorado.
So we immediately started having a garage sale, selling frozen goods and raising money every way we could. So we could spend a week. With these experts in Denver and learn how to help Brad. Well, and all the while it was, it was how to help us.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you can’t again know that at the time, but you see it.
But the benefit of hindsight.
Michael Kohler: Exactly.
David Hirsch: So, um, you did some more significant testing to identify where he was on the called fragile X spectrum. Uh, and Bradley was seven at the time. Is that what you said?
Michael Kohler: That is correct. He was seven. And then, um, with the right guidance, Cause I was always totally against do not medicate my child.
We were, we were shown how that medication could help him focus him, you know, comprehend and grow so that it would slow down. Basically the easiest way to put that was if you had, you know, Your TV breakdown, noise. You got cars driving by, you got people walking in the room, you got somebody yelling at you on the right.
Somebody talking to you on your left and somebody putting their hands in your face and all this at one time, it’s hard for us to filter out. That’s how that child feels every moment of every day. So in learning that whole week and figuring things out and where he was, we were able to get on an appropriate schedule.
He started talking. He started performing and I mean here 29 years later, he’s a social butterfly, a greeter at church, you know, probably on first name basis with every Walmart greeter across the County. And. Pretty much the catalyst behind what we do today.
David Hirsch: Looking back if I can paraphrase what you’ve said that week that you spent in Denver was transformative,
Michael Kohler: right?
David Hirsch: Not only Bradley, but for you in Tampa to understand what it was that was going on. And, um, the advice you got about utilizing some medication, uh, was a godsend.
Michael Kohler: Yes.
David Hirsch: Yes. And I think you and I are on the same page, you know? You want to avoid medication, if there’s any possibility to do that. But if after educating yourself and understanding what the facts and circumstances are, you know, there’s a reason for medications.
It’s not just a simple
Michael Kohler: silver bullet, correct?
David Hirsch: The people I think, think of medications as, but in some situations, you know, this, this is really the best opportunity for somebody to reach their full potential.
Michael Kohler: That is correct. You know, and, and, and too, can I jump forward? At the age of 18 Bradley approached me and said he never wanted to, you didn’t want to take the medicine anymore.
Cause he didn’t like the way it made him feel. And he and I came to an understanding that as long as he could, you know, control himself, not lose his temper, uh, stay focused. I sat in the other that we would try it. And uh, he’s not been medicated since then until here recently, which is other issues. He’s got a little bit of a blood pressure issue now, but that medication went away.
Uh, at 18 and has not come back.
David Hirsch: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s just amazing. I don’t even know what to say. I mean, other than it’s just God’s hand, you know, what, how could you explain that?
Michael Kohler: Correct.
David Hirsch: I don’t want to focus on the negative, but what, what have been some of the bigger challenges that you and Tampa have encountered?
Um, since the diagnosis?
Michael Kohler: Well going all the way back to the diagnosis and where I talked about a little earlier, about seven years of honeymoon, four years of. I’ll just use the word hell. Um, and then the restaurant is, uh, it was an emotional roller coaster. It was a stress on blame, mainly on my part to where, since she passed the X chromosome, I was very judgmental.
I was very hateful. Well, not proud of it, but it was a growth. Moment and time period to where we both had to grow and it helped us longer term, but there was a lot of, a lot of those issues maybe. And she had a lot of issues with, you know, self-blame I did this to my child, so that was some of the first early hurdles.
But then as you grow up, you know, just the, uh, The people not knowing that interact with your child with special needs, that they, they just don’t understand it. So a lot of times when you don’t understand something, some people turn to, you know, off color jokes or off-color comments or things where they fear the unknown.
And in that fear, A lot of the hurdles were people jumping to conclusions that, okay, well, something’s wrong in the home. Or, you know, like for a special needs with toileting issues, but seems to be a normal kid until you dig deeper, you know, while you’re just not taking care of at home or this child’s not getting the right care or this, that, and the other, they just don’t understand it.
I think we’ve come a long way since then. You know, now that he’s 29, it’s not, and the way our society has kind of evolved, there’s more embracing. Of special needs. There’s more awareness of special needs, but a lot of it was just, uh, also our fear of the unknown and trying to relate to our child when we, we have not experienced that.
So how can we truly relate? Schooling became kind of the big one, trying to figure out the best way to help him learn in the ways he needed to learn, but also that there are certain limitations. We started down the road of trying, you know, mainstream, mainstream, mainstream. My child will not be self contained.
My child will not be isolated well, but what he needed was more of that one to one. And over time we learned to that and as he got into the middle school and then further into the high school levels, it was the best things for him. In his situation. Yeah. That he had a bit more of that. One-on-one a bit more of that interaction to where now, like I say, he’s a social butterfly and just has blossomed.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, it’s amazing. Uh, one of the things that, uh, I think I heard you saying, which is difficult for all parents, whether you have typical kids or atypical kids, and there’s some behavior that seems inconsistent with what you know, would be accepted normally is that, uh, you know, people stare, people say things and what you have to come to grips with as a parent, Again, regardless of the type of children you have is that you can’t control what other people say or think correct?
Michael Kohler: That is very true.
David Hirsch: If you worry about that, or if that upsets you, it’s really your own fault for allowing that to happen. And it only comes from experience. You can’t read a book and fully understand
Michael Kohler: that. Oh no, no, no. It is. It’s what’s experience. It’s also, you know, growing up with a special needs child.
I, I made a decision early on that I was not going to handicap my child because he had a handicap and that’s two different things. A lot of times we draw within because we want to try and avoid those stairs. We want to try and give them the things that we feel are what we think. Are supposed to happen and in doing so, some things are overlooked such as behavior.
You know, for example, a lot of special needs are very, very sweet, emotional touchy, feely hands on, but at an early age, we taught Bradley the difference of good touch, bad touch that’s okay. Inappropriate behavior. Okay. So that it wasn’t a case of a, a 16 year old. Special needs adult or blossoming adult, you know, approaching a lady and just touching her in an inappropriate way and kissing her without her permission is not acceptable.
And if you’re not around, you know, the way our society is today could lead to problems. So we, you know, that was some of our experiences was trying to make sure that we did not handicap our child by treating him. So differently because of his handicap and instead looking at what are his abilities and how do we work within those to help him understand right.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I think if I hear what you’re saying is you have to err on the side of assuming they know more or understand more than they do.
Michael Kohler: Yes.
David Hirsch: Yes. And not to treat them like somebody who’s never going to understand or, you know, further handicapping them.
Michael Kohler: Correct.
David Hirsch: No, I don’t think that’s blind optimism, but I think that it’s airing on the side of creating higher expectations.
And if you have those high expectations, like we all do of ourselves, our spouses, our kids, and our workers, you know, if you create high expectations, people, I think generally speaking, try to. Meet what’s ever expected of them. And I, I think that what I hear you saying, and Bradley’s tuition is that, you know, you’ve been very concise assistant about right and wrong and good ways to do things and inappropriate ways to do things.
And that over the course of time has accumulated to where he is today. Yes, you know, very high functioning individual, you know, with deficits or challenges, but you’re not going to focus on what those are so much. So as what his strengths are and try to play to those. Correct?
Michael Kohler: Correct.
David Hirsch: So I’m curious to know what impact has Bradley situation had on his sister, Ashley or other family members for that matter?
Michael Kohler: Um, not only just the awareness, um, Ashley. You know, in the beginning a stages, you know, she was the protector, she was around a lot with school and daycare and things of that nature to where she was always there for him. We didn’t require her to babysit a lot. And I have to think, you know, we haven’t had a sit down conversation on it and granted she’s 34 years old now, but as far as us sitting down and saying, you know, you know, what were your takes on that?
I think it made her. The mom she is today, the way she cares for my grandchildren, her children, uh, for her family and just that heart for others. Uh, I think that had a big part of it, but I also tend to think, and, and one of the conversations that, you know, I should have had well before now, is that, uh, did she feel slighted in any way because Bradley got so much attention.
Because it was always, you know, well, we have to take care of Bradley in this way, or we have to do this because of Bradley or, you know, this, that and the other. Yeah. But we also tried to, for example, she would, uh, she would go to grandparents over the summer. Cause that’s what I did, but that’s also with us living in Missouri at the time and the grandparents living in Kentucky on my wife’s side, uh, it allowed her to be go down there for a week or two and, and visit with them and built that relationship.
And then as Bradley got older and the rest of the family, you know, they just embraced it. Uh, which is awesome. I’d like to say it’s all been a very positive impact on most the entire family. It brought some family members closer. Um, it brought family truly to more awareness because with the diagnosis then Tempa obviously was the carrier and then determined her father.
It is the one who gave it to her. Uh, and then, you know, through that family side, it actually answered some questions to others. Like I had mentioned previously that on her side, she had a few different disabilities and now there was some opportunity to, uh, to see where that stemmed from.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, it is amazing.
And, um, it’s not uncommon that a family members are more empathetic and sympathetic and. Passionate or compassionate about, uh, people who are not like them. Right. Cause I think that’s one of the silver linings. If I can call it that to having a child or family member with special needs, is that a, you take less
Michael Kohler: for granted.
David Hirsch: Yeah, that everybody gets the same thing and life is fair. Well, life is not fair. We have a lot of differences and, you know, we need to celebrate those differences as opposed to somehow devalue, you know, something because it’s less than somehow.
Michael Kohler: Correct. And I, and, and what pains me on that note is, you know, if you know someone that has a special needs child does not have that extended family support structure.
Uh, it can be challenging.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well you’re blessed.
Michael Kohler: Yes.
David Hirsch: Bradley as plus to have to. Okay. It’s like yourself, even though you started out at such a young age, the odds were obviously looking back on it, stacked against you, you somehow some way, I guess, with God’s help, uh, have been able to connect the dots in a way that, you know, when you look back, it’s gotta be very satisfying for you.
Not without challenges, but satisfying that you weather those storms as well as you have, have there been any supporting organizations that have been a direct help to, um, Bradley or your family, you know, as far as helping them do the things that we’ve been talking about?
Michael Kohler: Yeah, the, the biggest was, um, like I said earlier, when we moved here to Georgia with my, my company and chose Gwinnette County school systems, We chose that because of their special needs programs and the majority of the teachers and the para-pros and that support staff has just been amazing, you know, the whole special needs community, primarily the, the school system, the, you know, the bus drivers, the para-pros the programs like adapt and strive here are those that are kind of like a.
A day work type program where they would take students out one or two times as a week, take them to places like Kroger and target and Walmart and things to that nature, uh, to give them that socialization interaction, but also give them those somewhat job skills and access of, you know, sorting or counting or shelving or phasing.
And those that could, you know, I would say that that was a big player factor, the fragile X foundation. You know, when he was diagnosed and we went there, which is up in Denver, they were the biggest assistance from the get go.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thank you for sharing. And I think, but, uh, the decision, one of the more important decisions, it sounds like you, and Tempa made was that move to where you are today because of the school systems.
And let’s be Frank, not all school systems are created equal.
Michael Kohler: That is correct.
David Hirsch: You know, it’s a really difficult decision. If you’re not where you think you ought to be, or your child ought to be uprooting yourself to go to a different community and all the other things that are involved with that is a really tough time.
Michael Kohler: Yeah.
David Hirsch: I do recall from a previous conversation that. There was a really important transition that allowed you to go from a, what I’d call the workaday world, working in the, for profit world to allowing you and temp out to do what you’re doing and make the position a lot, lot easier. I mean, like amazingly.
So what, what was that?
Michael Kohler: Well, that transition was probably when, um, The president of our company Takiyuchi, uh, that I was working for at the time, uh, I was being provided an opportunity to do more. We were looking at doing production here in the U S and that would mean another facility that would mean more workers, more jobs, but also someone to assist with that.
And that opportunity came at a time that, you know, we were just starting into thinking about what, what was Bradley going to do? After he aged 22 and what should we do? And with Tampa, she’s always decorated cakes and it’s been kind of a hobby. She did some as a job, but it was more of a hobby thing. And did wedding cakes and things of that nature.
So she’s always been the Baker creator. Um, so we thought about the bakery, but when the position was offered, um, there was a lot of prayer. Fortunately, we were in church and we had support groups and prayed about it a lot. And then. I made the decision that, you know, we were going to start something, we were going to probably do a bakery.
So Bradley and T you know, could work with tempo and I could do cupcakes and cakes and things like that. And I went into the president of the company and said, you know, I, I appreciate the offer. Uh, I know I could do it, but here is where my wife and I are feeling led by the Lord. Uh, and at this time I didn’t have the level of relationship that developed with the president of the company.
We just weren’t at that level together. And when I advised him, he, uh, he’s I said, can I pray for you and reached across the table and took my hands and prayed for God’s guidance for God’s favor and how we needed to go through this situation. And once the prayer was finished, he said, so now, where do we go from here?
And I had already thought that cause actually my thought was I was going to go in there. Tell him no. And he’s going to tell me to get my box, get out and you’re done. Uh, cause that’s again, we didn’t have that level of relationship. And everything changed at that moment. And, uh, I said, well, um, I would be more than, okay.
Happy to train people, to help find transitions through the period, work myself out of a position. If you would allow me and help in any way on can, as we start this new venture up. Cause we were still in its infancy, you know, it was not even brick and mortar at that time. And, uh, as things developed he’s yeah, he agreed to it.
We started through the process. A lot of changes were made. I virtually worked myself out, out of a position and, um, we opened brick and mortar with the bakery in January of 2014. And come about may. It was to the point where some decisions had to be made on his part that, Hey, look, you know, you’re, you’re here.
You’re. Still making money, you know, but really we’ve allocated all the jobs in a different direction was going and what have you. And we had a hard cutoff date that I would leave and the thought was, you know, I would, I would leave and I would do part time at the bakery just because it wasn’t a paying job at the time, it would be volunteer on my part.
So I was going before work, then going to work. And then after work would come back and help with the bakery and Tempa was working 80, 90 hours a week. And he approached me. He says, well, I’ll tell you what he says. How about we keep you on the payroll for another six months? We keep your benefits rolling your health insurance, and that’ll give you time to use that six months to get your, your bakery in line, um, to get everything rolling and then, okay.
Just, you know, figure out what you’re going to do. And that was just amazing. That they did that. And as that time period started lapsing, when it came towards the end of that six months, what I found was I was working the 80 and 90 hours as well. And I wasn’t looking for, so yeah, when that stopped, you know, I kind of approached the board that had been developed for.
Special needs and treats the board of directors and said, Oh wow, Hey guys, uh, I got to go get a job. Um, I gotta pay my house payment. I gotta provide food. I can’t keep volunteering. So I gotta go. And, and, uh, at this point they had provided tempo with a small, well, a beginning salary and they said, well, what if we give you the same salary as tempo?
And, uh, can you guys make it on that? And collectively it was probably 70% less than what I was making in the corporate world. Um, but God provided and said, Hey, let’s make a go of it. So we made the change and yeah. This January here we are six years later, still a still wow. On an amazing God journey.
David Hirsch: That is amazing. Uh, you know, you didn’t use the phrase, but that must’ve taken a huge leap of faith. On your part to, um, leave the corporate world and that transition made it as easy as possible. Like you couldn’t have asked for something, you know, more from, uh, any business to allow you to do what you did.
Michael Kohler: Correct.
David Hirsch: And, uh, keep the healthcare benefits, keep the paychecks coming, you know, while you are helping get this not-for-profit business off the ground and, uh, to. Go down, you know, dramatically down as far as your income. Correct? Most of us I’ll just say I could not do that. I don’t think I’m capable of doing that.
Um, it’s the fear of the unknown, like going back to what you, and I think that if you really believe deep down, you know, that you’re doing what’s right. God, God’s calling you to do, then you just have to follow your heart and just, you know, deal with the repercussions. Right. Yeah. If they happen to be adversarial repercussions,
Michael Kohler: that’s very true.
And it was a huge leap of faith, but, but it also came at a point where I was closer spiritually in my walk to God. Than ever. And that’s more of, rather than I took a leap of faith off the cliff without a parachute had to kick me off because there were so many times where I would actually, for lack of a better term, I would almost throw down a fleece and say, okay, God, if this is truly meant to be, you’re going to do this.
And he would do it, or I would say, okay, God, you got to show me a sign, you know, and he would show us sign you. You can only ignore that for so long until you finally realize that, you know what, in the end, none of this, the stuff, it’s all his anyway, he gave it all to us. And in the end, we’re not going to have it.
So what are you going to do with the time you’ve got and. If there’s any bit of regret whatsoever, the only regret would be that I didn’t listen so much sooner that I spent, you know, 30 years of my own life, what I wanted to do. But in that time, period, God was molding me, was shaping me, was using those experiences to set us up for what we do today.
And. You’re you’re absolutely correct in that I never expected. Cause then when I let in with the story about the business, I expected to be told, get your box and get out. Cause that’s corporate America. Oh, if you’re not going to be here to support us, why am I going to pay you? Just go, I’ll get somebody who wants to, you know, or that transition period.
They didn’t have to do that. That’s just amazing. That’s Scott. God will, there is nothing that he can’t do. And you made the mention. You couldn’t do it. No, I couldn’t do it either, but through God, all things are possible.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it’s amazing. Just thank you again for sharing. And I’m sort of curious to know if there’s like a, a room or a wall or a building that you’ve named after Takeuchi, that organization has done for, you know, your, your not for profit.
Michael Kohler: Yeah. You know what. That’s something to where as humans, a lot of times we overlook the things that are truly, truly impactful. We tend to forget, you know, a lot of times that the focus is more on the present and in looking back and thinking to myself, I don’t know how many times I’ve said today, I’m going to stop and I’m going to write.
Mr. Eubanks a letter. How about today?
David Hirsch: How about today?
Michael Kohler: So, you know, but it is it’s that it was such a pivotal time and I give God all the credit, but it was through one of his faithful mr. Eubanks, that he orchestrated what’s going on.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, let me know what his response to your letter is when you get him.
Well, you take this big leap of faith. Um, it was January of 2014. When the business started, you got involved six months or so later. Uh, my recollection was that one of the things that you were thinking much smaller scale, right then where you are today, that we’re gonna make free birthday cakes for those who cannot afford them.
Wasn’t that part of the original thought process,
Michael Kohler: correct? Correct. Well, in the beginning it was a bit more selfish in that we just wanted something for our son Bradley to do. And the obvious choice was to use what tempo skills are, because my skills were more of the business side, not the creative and what have you.
Um, so we thought, okay, well, we’ll do a bakery. And we’ll just have Bradley and temporal work at. Oh wow. Um, one evening tempo woke up and said, you know what? She had seen a story about a five year old boy that was having a birthday. And the family had to go to a food cooperative to get food when they asked him what he wanted for his birthday.
And his comment was, I just wish I had a real birthday cake. Tempa said I can do that. That’s how the nonprofit. Came into focus. That’s the seed that God used to plant for us to take the five Oh one C three approach because hiring and employing special needs is not nonprofit. It’s just the right thing to do.
It’s just giving, you know, a sector of the population that really wants to work are great workers, an opportunity to use what skills they have. So we weren’t quite sure how to do it. And then that happened and Tim was like, Oh, and I’ve, I’ve been told a name, special needs spelled K N D S like kneading dough because it’s bakery, even though we don’t do breads like kneading dough, but also special needs, special needs.
Individuals and, um, yeah, the way that came to be every year, things started falling in place. When we, you know, we were trying to do it ourselves, but I’m not. Even though my last name is Kohler. I’m not color plumbing or color engines, so I’m not independently wealthy. And a tip. I asked me that one all the time though.
Is, are you sure it’d be a little easier, but uh, you know, it’s, it’s it’s we were trying to make things happen. We were looking at buildings. I actually stopped every day on my way to corporate work and prayed around a building that I knew was the building we were going into. But when I finally, you said, you know what I got, yeah, I got to stop.
This is yours. What do you want us to do? Everything started falling into place. It’s just amazing how God works, how he connects the right people at the right time on his time. Instead of my time, I’ve learned that all along this way is that my time is not his time. You know, uh, I want to stand in front of the microwave and say, hurry up.
And God says, wait, wait, I got this. Yeah, that was the crazy part was, uh, just giving it up, uh, giving it to him God, and then being able to be a tool for him to use and just the amazing journey he’s taken us on. And the, uh, the way he orchestrates everything. I’m a numbers guy and I can’t make the numbers work.
Oh, God can.
David Hirsch: It’s amazing. Well, um, my recollection was Tempa was not the first employee. There was a fellow by the name of Austin. What’s the backstory on
Michael Kohler: that. That is correct. Um, like I said, a few moments ago, um, Bradley and Tampa, we thought were going to be the ones working at the bakery. A little bit of backstory on that real quickly was that there was a bakery in downtown Lawrenceville.
The lady who owned it was wanting to get out. Yeah, she wasn’t sure. And. We were meeting with her about acquiring the assets and the location, uh, utilize my 401k out of corporate to kind of start it up and seeing the customers come through and seeing this young man who is about my son’s age, Austin, that was working there.
And just the volume of being on the square, kind of like, Oh, wow. Yeah, we were a little, little, yeah. Diluted in thinking that just Tempa and Bradley could do it. We really need someone and approached the board and said that, uh, there’s this young man that works there. At the time. I think he was part time, maybe two or three days a week said, we’d really love to offer him an opportunity because he knows the equipment.
He knows the location. He knows the customers. He knows the things that are going on and he could assist us. And the board said, well, of course, that makes perfect sense. So he was actually the first paid employee day one when we opened, he started collecting a check. It wasn’t until two to three months later that Tampa actually started becoming an employee and she wasn’t an employee until after several special needs were put on pay.
Cause that was kind of, our goal was to pay special needs adults, but, uh, Austin, uh, unbeknownst to us at the time, uh, we discovered over time that he actually. Had some health issues that had, uh, plagued him up to that point, his entire life to where, you know, schooling was issues, different things like that.
But his was more health-related and a long story short, he is still with us. Uh, so he is our longest tenured employee, but his health issues would typically prevent him from having another. Full time, regular job with most businesses because of his health implications. His, you know, if he does have an episode, whether it’s seizure, like or whatever, have you, but just that whole liability side of things, uh, and other issues is God meant for him to be there that day.
David Hirsch: That’s very powerful. So if I can paraphrase what you’re saying, you’re, you’re, um, more than flexible to accommodate Austin because of the circumstances. And that’s not typical business or corporate
Michael Kohler: America, correct.
David Hirsch: You can’t do the job,
Michael Kohler: you know, we’re just going to
David Hirsch: find somebody else who can mentality, correct?
No, I think that that’s part of being inclusive and accepting, you know, we have to be flexible. And not everybody is flexible. Right. You know, this is a business mindset, not a charity, but you know, you’re running a business in the name of a charity. So I think that you do have a little bit more latitude to do things the way you want to do them, as opposed to, you know, it’s all about the money and keeping the lights on.
Michael Kohler: And that that’s the that’s absolutely correct. And that’s, you know, if we were focusing on the bottom line, like your typical for profit business, that’s what it’s all about. It is the bottom line. How am I going to make more money for shareholders, stockholders, for employees, for people to make more money?
We wouldn’t do a lot of what we do today. If that was truly our only focus. So the, the mission evolved from the concept of free cakes for kids that can’t afford them through food, cooperatives, defects, foster care, things like that to the training and education and employment opportunities of special needs adults.
And that has become probably our main focal. Mission because people are drawn to that more so than the free cakes. They’re drawn to the fact that we have, like today we have 29 special needs that work every week, but I have 190 on a waiting list and they’re drawn because of what we’re doing with the special needs.
But when they fully understand the underlying initial. Core mission of the cakes for kids who can’t afford them, they see how much of a win win it is because not only are we providing a group of the population that a lot of times doesn’t get opportunities with job opportunities and skill sets and training, and then they see, Oh, and you do free cakes for kids.
So the special needs adults that are learning and doing this are giving back to those less fortunate than their cells in their own community. It’s it’s huge.
David Hirsch: That’s amazing.
Michael Kohler: The whole vision. Again, a God thing was about a year into what we’d started. We were blessed by the local channels to five 11, 11 alive, and then we were approached by the today.
Show us today several different media outlets that. When God’s your PR person, sky’s the limit
David Hirsch: in a little bakery in Lawrenceville,
Michael Kohler: Georgia employees are put to work sweeping floors, washing windows and stamping boxes for John Blake and Ann Marie life has never been sweeter. I liked working here. I’m having fun.
That’s because they work at a bakery called special needs and treats where the majority of employees have a learning disability. That is one thing about our special needs adults. You give them a day. Do they learn it? They know it well, and they take pride in it and they love to come to work. Those with special needs are often paired with volunteers or staff.
If it wasn’t for Laurie being here to help me learn how to do everything. I would be lost. We’ve been named brother and sister since day one. She’s shown me how to make a bet, how to make the price thing. She’s given me the reins to be able to every other Friday, they get something that many of us take for granted.
They love to get paid. It’s an awesome day. When we get to hand those checks out more important than the money they make is the feeling they get for a job. Well done. To doing you get down and dirty. That means you’re having fun. We started getting a waiting list. Our waiting list went from five, five adults to 15 to 30.
When the today show hit. After that, since it went nationwide, um, we jumped to 120. On a waitlist showing that there was such a huge need in our local area that it’s like, wow, what are we going to do? You know, in this little bitty 300 square foot kitchen with a lobby that seats 18, you know, 300 square feet with wheelchair and Walker folks just, it doesn’t work.
So we prayed a lot. And then through God, Again, looking at your trials, your struggles, the property we were in was being sold. The new landlord was wanting much higher rents and different things like that. God dropped our current facility. Right onto us and said, just follow me. We’ll make it work. And he did.
And now we have a 2,600 square foot kitchen in a 12,000 square foot facility where we have increased from 10 or 12 actual needs being paid to 20, 27 being paid. I think it is today. Yeah. And five more than volunteer. But that waiting list has swelled to one 90, but the vision along with that, which I may be jumping ahead from your questions is that this new facility would be production and training would be more of the foundation because we were blessed to be able to purchase the property and building, planting the roots rather than leasing a space.
So that now this becomes home base. This becomes the foundation. And with the vision we believe God has us pointed in because we get people from all across the country saying, Hey, come start one here. Hey, come do this. Hey, you need to do this. Is that from here? Little storefronts could be put up in all the city centers around us.
We would. Have special needs adults come in here to be trained and educated and then go back to their home center to work at the storefront, closer to their home, but also the partner agencies for the free cake programs that. If someone is 15 miles away and homeless, they may not be able to come here to get their cake.
But if I have a storefront for them to pick their cake up two blocks from their, their homeless shelter or their abuse center or their foster care agency, it’s more conducive to including them. And it’s another win-win. And then once that’s done, I’ve just now provided you with a future vision. There’s a template.
Take it to the next County, take it to the next state, continued to go. But that’s, if it’s God’s plan, because if God came to me today and said, lock your doors, you’re done. I was so pumped that I would say, I would say, okay, God, what’s next. We’ve had an impact. We’ve done amazing things. You’ve got something better in mind.
What’s next. But I don’t think he’s done with us yet.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I want to drill down on just one more, um, employee situation. I remember, I don’t think we talked about it. It must have been on one of the videos I watched. There’s a fellow. His name is Scott, who I think was 52 or something like that. Yes, sir.
Michael Kohler: This was his first.
David Hirsch: Opportunity to have a job or a paycheck.
Michael Kohler: Yeah. I was a 52 years old and a Walker, uh, had a nurse aide that would come with him. And he was in our beginning stages of, I think in the, probably the first 10 or 12 employees. And at 52, he could only work one day a week with us. Now he volunteered a lot of different places, so he had some job exposure, but an actual.
Paycheck at minimum wage. And it was only for a couple of hours. And so after taxes, I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of like $17. Cause it was for one week I think, or something like that. Well, when we gave him his check, he said, this is my first check and I’m going to go to McDonald’s and buy my dad lunch.
Oh, my word, Oh my gosh. If that doesn’t pull your heart, I don’t know what would, because. That grounds me, that helps me to remember that the stuff and the toys and the things I, I strive towards from the corporate world and to be of the world. For example, I like to share with people, you know, I traded my Harley for a minivan that now has a cupcake on it.
That’s a true fact, but to give a 52 year old man, his first real paycheck ever, that’s amazing. It’s sad on one hand, but it’s amazing that I got to be a part of that. And, uh, unfortunately Scott does not have the ability to be with us today. Um, he is, uh, had some health issues. Um, so he has not worked for us, unfortunately, um, for almost two years now.
And, uh, we, we, we pray that he gets gets better, but he’s had some, some health turns, but, uh, yeah, that’s, that’s kinda, that’s a cool story.
David Hirsch: Oh yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. And the fact that the first thing he wanted to do was to go to McDonald’s and buy his dad a hamburger or lunch, you know, it was just heartwarming.
Right. It just literally brings tears to my eyes. So thanks for sharing. Oh yeah. So.
I remember you telling me previously that there is a connection to rotary and you know, that I’m a Rotarian. I happen to be involved with rotary one here in Chicago, which is literally the very first of the 35,200 plus rotaries across the world.
What, uh, what role is rotary played, um, in your life or with special needs and treats for that matter?
Michael Kohler: Wow. Um, It’s been huge. It’s amazing what the rotary does for their communities, uh, for all the different charities that they support. You know, our local community here, not to pull any focus off the rotaries, but our local community, the itself has just been amazing.
We’ve been embraced by the cornet stripers and the, which is the minor league ball team baseball team and the like Atlanta Braves. The Atlanta Braves gave us a community heroes for the day and gave us a $5,000 check. But the bigger part of that was they sent ballplayers here to interact with our kids and decorate cakes.
With our special needs adults. And these weren’t, these weren’t bench trackers, these weren’t third stringers. This was Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, and Jerry Blevins. Wow. And when they walked through the door, I think I was more excited than anyone else because, Oh my gosh, these, these future and current hall of Famer guys that are going to go there in our shop.
And then it was amazing to see them interact with the kids. I call them kids. But you know, these, these special needs individuals that just the love, the, the level of care, the way these guys just embraced it. It was amazing. It was better than the cheque.
David Hirsch: I love the story. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for reminding me that rotary does play an important role in so many different ways.
Michael Kohler: And. You know, just a real brief spot that not just these big names, our local community as a whole, we have received so much support from so many people from so many businesses and things that I’m not doing justice to, to sharing everyone, but that’s not what this true. This isn’t an, uh, an infomercial, but you know, there are so many in our community that have just embraced this entire thing.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, it’s heartwarming. Thank you again for sharing.
So let’s switch gears and talk about advice.
Is there anything that you would suggest important takeaway to a parent or our father for that matter? Raising a child with differences?
Michael Kohler: Oh, wow. Um, I think we, as, as parents of special needs, definitely have more to learn than to teach.
Um, if we embrace the gift. That God has given us. And I know that’s hard. That is so hard for a newly diagnosed special needs parent, that the emotions, the things that will go through your mind of guilt of why me, you know, why would this happen instead? Embrace the gift of what is the plan and purpose for my.
Special child, how am I going to help my child with special needs, with the abilities that they have, no matter how my Newt to become what it is, God intended them to become. And we may never actually truly experience it ourselves in our lifetime, but the impact that this individual will have on others lives.
Through just simple interactions. It’s like that ripple effect. They’re just a small pebble in the Lake, but by the time that little wave branches out and hits every shoreline, it is huge. And that’s been, you know, my 29 years with a child with special needs has made me a better person. It’s taught me patience.
It’s taught me understanding empathy. It’s taught me just to think outside the box, rather than what the world wants to put on us as what the world expects. We need to refocus that and embrace. That it’s it’s about what this child’s purpose and plan is, and just that huge impact they’re going to have on someone’s life.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Very powerful. Thank you for sharing. Um, I’m curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network.
Michael Kohler: Basically, because of what we just went through, that there’s a lot of special needs, newly diagnosed, special needs dads out there that are confused.
They’re frightened. The unknown is that if just a brief moment, I can be a support structure for someone that just has a question, you know, is there hope, you know, that’s what a lot of us, when we’re first diagnosed is what’s the hope for my child. You know, we, when we plan things, we plan having a child, you know, we’re thinking about college, we’re thinking about their future.
They’re thinking about their wedding. And then here comes this huge curve ball, you know? Oh my, no, my child’s in a wheelchair. My child can’t talk. Not what my child can’t do, but the reason I joined was that hopefully if I change one man’s perspective to keep these families together and to embrace that child, everything was worthwhile.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for sharing and thank you for being part of the network.
We’re lucky to have you let’s give a special shout out to our mutual friend, Scott sours, a fellow special father network, mentor, father, uh, podcast, dad. For that matter, he was. Early early on. I think it was podcast number nine. I got my numbers.
Michael Kohler: Correct.
David Hirsch: But I’m very thankful for Scott making the opportunities.
Michael Kohler: Yeah. Thanks Scott. Appreciate it. Thanks for turning me on to such a great network and David, thank you for, for what you do and just for, uh, seeking out those positives so that we can, we can be a bright spot and this a fallen and darkened world.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Michael Kohler: I guess just, you know, leaving on that same line of thoughts is no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, try and think outside the box, into the positive of what can I do with the abilities of those around me and how can I support them to achieve.
That would you say are typical.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So if somebody wants to learn more about special needs or to contact you, how would they go about doing that?
Michael Kohler: Uh, well, one of the easiest ways would probably be, uh, we, we do have a website it’s www.specialkneadsandtreats.org. And like you led in with the needs is actually spelled any ads, uh, the word and is spelled out, but it’s a special needs and treats.org.
Uh, we are going through kind of revamping the website, making it better, but then, then it has a contact list on it. Uh, so that can email us. Um, yeah, there’s a Facebook feed. Uh, Facebook is huge for us right now. It’s probably our largest social medium in the number of followers that we have. And my wife.
Pretty much stays on top of the Facebook messages and things of that nature, but to learn more, there’s a little bit of the story on the website and a few other things. And, um, if in the area, you know, Hey, stop in and say, Hey, and just see what God’s doing.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Michael, thank you for two, taking the time and many insights.
As a reminder, Michael is just one of the dads. Who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the special fathers network, dad to dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much because I did, as you probably know, the 21st Century Dads foundation is a 501 c3, which means that we need your help to keep our content free. To all concerned, please consider making a tax deductible donation today.
I would really appreciate your support. Please also post a review on iTunes, share the podcast with family and friends and subscribe. So you’ll get a reminder when each episode is produced. Michael, thanks again.
Michael Kohler: Thank you, David. It was a pleasure.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network.
The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help. We’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: If you enjoyed this podcast, please be sure to like us on Facebook and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen.
The dad to dad podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.