Ohio Dad Buys Ice Cream Truck for His Kids with Down Syndrome to Inspire Others with Special Needs
"It's much more than selling ice cream," Joel Wegener said of running Special Neat Treats with his two adult children
An Ohio dad found a sweet way to ensure that his kids with special needs have employment opportunities — and now their business has become a community favorite!
Joel Wegener told NBC affiliate WLWT that he decided to buy an ice cream truck in April after realizing that it may be a challenge for his two adult kids, Josh, 18, and Mary Kate, 21, to receive a job offer because they both have Down syndrome.
"It started out as an idea to sell ice cream, now it's so much bigger than that," explained Joel, who also shares eight other biological children with his wife Freida.
"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,'" he added to the outlet. "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."
Joel ended up buying the ice cream truck from another special needs family in Indiana before his wife came up with the name Special Neat Treats, in reference to their employees with special needs, WLWT reported.
Then, the family hit the road in their Loveland community — and the response has been nothing but positive.
"Almost every time I go out, I find a family with special needs or with some connection," Joel explained to WLWT. "It's just been an unbelievable journey."
So far, Joel said their business has "exceeded expectations," with the truck having sold close to 5,000 desserts, according to WLWT. They've since started selling in the greater Cincinnati area and have plans to expand the fleet of trucks next summer, the outlet reported.
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While working alongside his children, Joel has been teaching them financial and social skills, like managing money and interacting with customers, WLWT reported.
Speaking to the outlet, Josh noted that his father also suggested he "make [the customers] smile, and he's told me about waving at them."
"Because they love ice cream and they scream for ice cream when asking for ice cream," the teen added.
As they continue to run the business together, Joel hopes Special Neat Treats will help raise awareness about the hiring potential of people with varying abilities.
"It's much more than selling ice cream," the dad of 10 told WLWT. "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."
"No matter what your abilities are, there's something that you can do and you can spread joy and interact with other people," he added.