WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - Perry Warden has spent most of his working life as a special education teacher in South Central Kansas. “I got along really well with kids that had severe problems, not just small learning disabilities, but severe mental health and emotional disturbances.”

Warden left teaching in 2019 to run his other business, Premier Driving School, full time. He never forgot about his experience teaching those kids though, especially the problems they face when leaving the program. “I went out and helped kids try to find jobs and what I found it was horrible. In the special education system, they can be educated up to 21 but after 21, they turned loose almost.”

Warden and his wife decided they wanted to try to help. Earlier this year, they started a nonprofit called the "Carpe Diem Cafe". Warden plans to hire people with disabilities, on the autism spectrum, or other situations to run the shop and gain valuable job experience. “It's not just people with special needs, it's people who have been battered or abused women's shelters, people who've just had horrible situations and that need a job.”

He wants this cafe to be a safe haven for adults with these disabilities but also act as a path to help the community see them as equals. “Just because someone looks different, maybe even acts differently. There's still humans, there's still got a soul, they still got a purpose, they still have a heart.”

Warden says it was tough getting the nonprofit off the ground at first, especially with fundraising.  “We've been slowly prodding along, funding has become a big issue. We've thought we were gonna get several grants they just have not come through. We also thought we had a personal supporter that actually got ill so they were unable to help and so it's just been one setback after the other

That has led him to pay for a lot of equipment out of pocket. “I've driven six different states picking up restaurant equipment, trying to do as much as I can to keep the cost down.”

Some of the most expensive equipment he's purchased includes two stainless steel kitchen prep tables. Warden had been storing them inside the building where the cafe is going but with his contractor starting remodeling last week, they decided to temporarily place them outside.

“We decided you know what it weighs between the large one and the other one we're looking at over 1000 pounds of equipment.”

He figured the weight would prevent anyone from bothering the gear. Warden was wrong, when he got back to the shop after the holiday weekend both tables were gone. “I won't lie, It challenged my faith for a few hours.”

Warden has tried to keep a positive outlook on the situation, saying "I just looked at the heavens and gotta hope they needed it worse than we did" but the loss was still painful.

The prep stations cost around $13,000. Warden says his business insurance hadn't kicked in yet since they were still in the remodeling phase and hadn't gotten fully underway, so he has to eat the loss on his own.

Warden says he was discouraged by the loss but he isn't going to stop his dream of opening Carpe Diem. He says the work he wants to do is too important not to.

"Is that going to keep me from doing what I need to? No. Will it make me take some more time? Yes. We're just hoping that that people will, you know, see what we're trying to do and be willing to help.”

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