Concerned about his two grown children with Down syndrome finding work, an Ohio father decided to buy an ice cream truck so the children could earn a living from selling sweet delights and demonstrating to society how much people with various abilities can achieve.
“No matter what your abilities are, there’s something that you can do and you can spread joy and interact with other people,” said Joel Wegener, the father of ten from Loveland.
An ice cream truck called Special Neat Treats is currently run by Wegener and his son Josh, 18, and daughter Mary Kate, 21. Kate showed an interest in working with her father after completing a career course for disabled individuals.
“Mary Kate just finished up at Pathways [a program for individuals with varying abilities] and when people asked her, she’s always said, ‘I wanna work with Papa,’” Wegener recalled. “But then when we started talking about this ice cream business, it was just a natural [thing] to bring her in and also bring Josh in.”
Josh and Kate are two of Wegener’s ten children. Wegener and his wife wanted to make sure they are as skillful as their other siblings.
After the Wegener family discovered an ice cream truck for sale by another special needs family in nearby Indiana, they bought it and started their own business in April.
According to WLWT, Wegener stated their revenue has “exceeded expectations” thus far, with the truck selling about 5,000 ice creams, and they intend to grow their number of trucks next summer.
The venture includes teaching the children about money and developing social skills in addition to providing employment.
“It’s much more than selling ice cream,” said the father. “It’s about an experience for everybody, but to give my kids something to do and show other parents maybe there is something creative, out of the box that we can come up for our family and for our kids to do.”
Josh said his father advised him to “make [the customers] smile,” and “wave at them. Because they love ice cream and they scream for ice cream when asking for ice cream,” the teen boy went on to say.
“On a daily basis we connect with people that care so much about special needs, or they have their own story and to be able to sit in this truck, look out the window and see kids coming screaming and parents bringing their kid,” said Wegener.
“Almost every time I go out, I find a family with special needs or with some connection,” he added. “It’s just been an unbelievable journey.”
Wegener intends to purchase additional trucks and recruit workers with a variety of abilities in the future.