Joel Wegener of Ohio wanted to acquire an ice cream truck to provide a career path for his special needs children as a way to give back to the community and help persons with Down syndrome.
What is the most effective strategy to bring individuals and communities together? Yes, food, but ice cream? Even better! Joel, 61, and his wife Freida have ten children, two of them, Mary Kate and Josh, were born with Down syndrome.
People born with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome, which causes a variety of physical and developmental issues. Down syndrome is a lifelong disorder and cannot be treated.
Nonetheless, physicians are learning more about the disorder and have assisted numerous families and communities in supporting loved ones with Down syndrome.
Because the consequences vary from person to person, persons with Down syndrome have variable mental capacities ranging from mild to moderate in terms of thinking, reasoning, and comprehension.
While they may acquire things later than others, persons with Down syndrome can pick up new abilities their whole lives.
Some people with Don syndrome may require permanent care, but a caring and inclusive community may help them care for themselves and live full and meaningful lives.
There have been significant advances in offering possibilities for those with mental disabilities, including those with Down syndrome. Joel, a former science teacher, is concerned that his children may face difficulties finding productive jobs in the future.
So, after doing some research online, he purchased an ice cream truck for $6,000 from another special needs family in Indiana, and after some repairs, he headed out to sell ice cream with his two daughters. Why an ice cream truck?
“The reason the ice cream truck is so ideal is that it has allowed them both to develop their interaction and social skills in a comfortable atmosphere,” he stated.
After some mending and rebranding, the Wegeners debuted their shop to the public in April 2021, which proved a major hit with the residents in their hometown, suitably named Loveland.
“My wife had the wonderful idea of naming it Special Neat Treats, a play on words for special needs. When we acquired the ice cream truck in January, I never intended for this to happen. “The attention we’ve gotten has been incredible, and we hope that we can encourage other families with special needs children to discover new and imaginative methods to help their children,” Joel added.
The business has clearly exceeded expectations. Thousands of treats have been sold, and there are plans to expand the fleet of ice cream trucks. It’s also been a fantastic opportunity to connect with other people who have Down syndrome.
“Almost every time I go out, I discover a family with special needs or with some link,” Joel explained. It’s been an incredible adventure.”
Special Neat Treats’ success contributes to attempts to increase opportunities and secure employment for persons with Down syndrome. “Josh is in his final year at school, so he isn’t around as often, but Mary is nearly 22 and so no longer eligible for public schooling,” Joel added. We were concerned about what she’d be able to accomplish once she reached this age, but the ice cream truck has put our minds at ease.”
He continued, “Mary always wanted to work alongside me, but up until now there hasn’t been a proper career opportunity for her. When teachers and others asked her, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” she said she wanted to work alongside Papa.”
Joel and his wife are immensely proud of their children for successfully running the Special Neat Treats truck. Frieda remarked, “We were not terrified of having special needs children or the problems that came with it.”
And the ice cream truck is more than simply a company; it is also a place where youngsters may acquire new skills.
People with Down syndrome may difficulty with duties such as smiling and asking questions, according to Joel, and these are abilities that his children must practice at work. Furthermore, Joel is teaching his children how to manage money and deal with clients.
Josh and Mary are overwhelmed by their father’s and the rest of the family’s affection and support.
Joel sees Special Neat Treats as more than just an ice cream shop. He aspires to expand the business and help even more people with Down syndrome.
“As a father, you have wants,” he explained. I don’t sure that any one of them will ever be entirely independent. But we aim to steer them in that way, and I hope they can continue to assist me in selling ice cream for a long time.”
Joel, Mary Kate, and Josh believe that after operating the business together and seeing the attention it has garnered in the community, Special Neat Treats will help increase awareness about the employment potential of persons with Down syndrome and diverse physical and mental abilities.
“No matter what your talents are, there’s something that you can do and bring joy and engage with other people,” Joel said.