Kristin and Brent Lape of Madison are understandably delighted to have seen their six-year-old daughter Lily do well in kindergarten at Madison Avenue Lower Elementary School this year. But given that Lily was diagnosed just days after birth with Down Syndrome, the Lapes have already spent years contemplating her future after high school and how to help her develop a skill set that will attract employers.
“In talking with parents who have older kids with Down Syndrome, we realized that after high school there’s nothing. All those skills they learned started regressing,” Brent said. “We came to the point of, ‘We can keep on with that trend, or we can do something to actually make a chance for our daughter when she gets older.’”
The couple’s long-term plan is for Lily to be one of many Jackson-area children who will be taught how to handle money, greet customers and learn product knowledge – the training will not only give intellectually-challenged youngsters the talents and work habits to help them succeed, but will also go a long way toward normalizing them in society. If all goes well, the Lapes will one day open The Lily Pad, a café that hires young adults with intellectual challenges and houses an activity center that teaches crucial job skills.
“Hugs Café in McKinney, Texas, is a similar model to what we’re envisioning,” Brent said. “You almost need a training area for them before they start in front of people. If you don’t, you set them up to fail. What we do not want is someone with Down Syndrome – or anyone with any special need – there for show. We want them to work seamlessly and be part of the community.”
The Lapes are well on their way to their estimate of a quarter million dollars needed to open The Lily Pad. Proceeds from the annual Run up for Downs 5K have helped considerably, with the 2019 event moving them close to the halfway mark. “On top of the money needed, our goal is to hopefully find a developer, or someone that owns a business that maybe needs a tenant and could donate the space,” Brent said. “We’re a 501c3 nonprofit, which could help us get open quicker. We would probably want a facility starting out about the size of a McDonald’s.”
One of the more creative efforts to assist was put together by Brent’s friend John Dolan. A Rankin County-based advertising specialist, John created Eat & Run Mississippi and took pledges in 2018 from fellow runners to donate funds to The Lily Pad based on a calendar year of mileage.
“We have raised several thousand dollars and counting,” John said. “I have many friends who have children with Down Syndrome or other intellectual disabilities. The Lily Pad is the kind of vehicle their children can use to be productive members of society as adults.”
“It’s not that our kids won’t learn life skills in high school. They cover that,” Kristin said. “It’s continuing the education, but also getting them out in public to socialize more with people. We’re going to employ and train them so they can be employed in the community. We want you to walk into a steakhouse and someone like Lily takes you to your table. Or she’s serving you, and it’s normal. You shouldn’t be able to name on one hand how many places employ people with disabilities.”
Find and like The Lily Pad on Facebook, and visit online at www.thelilypadms.com. o