Georgia bakery’s secret ingredient is uplifting people with special needs

Brittany gives a thumbs up to bakery owner Tempa Kohler.

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Brittany gives a thumbs up to bakery owner Tempa Kohler.

When a family created a place for their son to learn and work, they had no idea it would turn into a community-wide treasure.

Tempa and Michael Kohler opened Special Kneads and Treats Inc. in Lawrenceville, Georgia, so their son Bradley could have a place to work after he turned 22 and aged out of county-supported programs.

He has Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes learning disabilities and cognitive impairment.

Both parents say Bradley inspired their business plan. Special Kneads and Treats Inc. hires people like Bradley who might otherwise find it difficult to get a job.

"We knew early on that we were going to have to find a job for Bradley. And we just thought, well, why not open a bakery?" empa Kohler said.

She has been baking and decorating cakes since she was 13 years old.

"I just turned 50, so I have a little experience there," she said with a chuckle.

A nonprofit bakery wasn't exactly what the Kohlers' life plan looked like at first.

"I traded my Harley for a minivan with cupcakes on it because God will make you do some strange things," Michael Kohler said.

Michael Kohler worked in the corporate world for almost 30 years and said he lived a very different lifestyle.

He is a 6'4", 250-lb, former football player and, as he describes, a "used-to-be bruiser."

But after this experience, he now describes himself as a big softie.

"I prayed for God to soften my heart, and I should have put a little caveat in that because I've cried more in the last three years than I have in my first 47."

It's easy to see how big the Kohler family's heart is when you swing open the doors to Special Kneads.

They not only have made it their mission to employ kids and adults with disabilities, but also, through these opportunities, a ripple effect is felt throughout the community.

For instance, both of Charisse Southerland's children, Cody and Courtney, work at the bakery.

She said Cody's language and ability to work with others has blossomed since he started working.

"They have their own life now. Cody actually has his own purpose and his own life," she said.

"For me, it means an opportunity," Courtney Southerland said. "This is my first steady job with a paycheck. Cody's first job as well. So, I'm very happy that this place exists. It's kind of helped us be more self-sufficient."

The Kohler family also works with 18 agencies around Gwinnett County to provide free birthday cakes to kids whose families aren't able to afford one.

They said they hope their story is one of inspiration for other business owners.

"We need to educate," Tempa Kohler said. "We need to educate businesses that you can hire special needs adults. There is nothing to be afraid of. They are great employees; they come to work every day; they take pride in their work; you put them on a task and they are going to do it."

"There is an entire sect of special needs people who want to work, who want to make a difference," Michael Kohler said.

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