Lily Pad cafe to employ special friends with disabilities

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A cafe that will employ young adults with disabilities and teach them the ropes of working skills is coming to Ridgeland.

Two families who have children with Down syndrome have joined together and will be opening The Lilly Pad in Olde Towne next summer.

“My daughter Lily has Down syndrome, and the other co-founders, Deanna and Kelly Elliott, have a son Hayden, who also has it,” said Brent Lape, co-founder of The Lily Pad. 

“The common thread was that after high school, there were no work opportunities for them. After that is when we came up with the idea of The Lily Pad.”

Lape said other cafes and establishments across the country that employed people with disabilities were also an inspiration to The Lily Pad.

There’s a place called Hugs Cafe in McKinney, Texas, which goes by a similar idea, and Bitty and Beau’s Coffee in North Carolina, run by people with intellectual and development disabilities. Gigi’s Playhouse in Illinois was another inspiration as well.

Lape said that from what he’s seen, the bar has been set much lower for people with disabilities when it comes to work experience and skills, and he wants to make sure those people are trained properly at The Lily Pad so they can smoothly transition to another business in the workforce.

“I remember a store owner saying that if someone with Down syndrome came to their store looking for work, the first thought would be that they were capable of just rolling silverware and greeting customers,” he said. “A very low bar was already set.”

Lape said he and the rest of the staff want to give kids a chance to succeed.

“Our goal as parents is to make sure to provide for your kids and see that they have the best possible future,” he said. “See what each person excels at and give them a chance.”

Kristin Lape, Brent Lape’s wife and board chair for The Lily Pad, said they’re planning on securing ownership of the building in December of this year. 

“The December 2020 date is what we have signed to close the building and have ownership of it,” Lape said. “We’re hoping in the summer or fall of 2021 to be fully open and operational.”

Funds for The Lily Pad are raised by the annual Run Up For Downs, a 5K to bring awareness to down syndrome. The most recent run was held virtually on March 21 of this year. The goal is $500,000, and thanks to the most recent Run Up For Downs, a total of $160,000 has been raised so far.  

VIDEO BY JOHN LEE
Kristen Lape describes the goals of The Lily Pad, which will be opening fully in late summer / early fall of 2021.

Lape said people are already contacting her about employing their kids. 

“People are already reaching out to me and asking if their kids can be employed and start training, so there’s currently a need for that,” she said. 

Lape feels like everyone deserves a chance at success, and disabilities shouldn’t get in the way of that. 

“We want to make it where there’s a normal occurrence to see someone with a disability working at a restaurant and a normal occurrence to see it anywhere,” she said. “They can do it. Their steps to success may be different than yours, but they will still get there.”

Deanna Elliot, mother of Hayden Elliott, who was part of the inspiration for The Lily Pad, met the Lapes through The Little Light House, a non-profit Christian development center for children with special needs. 

Lily and Hayden went to The Little Light House together when Hayden was just two or three years old, and that’s how we got to know the Lapes, Elliott said. 

Elliott said options for work were limited for teenagers and adults with disabilities. 

“As Hayden and Lily started getting older, we researched what they would be able to do for work and their future,” she said. “That’s when we started tossing around the idea of a cafe that would train young people with disabilities.”

Elliott said the progress The Lily Pad has made is very exciting. 

“It’s significant being a non-profit restaurant coming right out of the pandemic. The community has been so supportive and we feel like God is guiding us and telling us this is the time to start this. Hopefully we can be open later in the summer of next year.”

Elliott hopes The Lily Pad can spread more awareness and help people realize that having a disability doesn’t limit someone to being a functional and contributing member to society.

“Hayden and Lily see no evil and love everyone for who they are, no matter their color or age,” she said. “It’ll be a wonderful experience for people to visit the restaurant and see how they are.” 

The Lily Pad Cafe will be located in Olde Towne Ridgeland at 111 N. Wheatley St., which is currently M7 Coffeehouse. To sponsor a brick, table, menu naming rights, or donate to The Lily Pad, visit www.thelilypadms.com.


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