Ohio dad buys ice cream truck for his kids with Down syndrome to inspire others with special needs

An Ohio father found a fun way to ensure his special needs kids have employment opportunities – and now their company has become a community favorite!

Joel Wegener told NBC affiliate WLWT that he decided to buy an ice cream truck in April after realizing it could be challenging for his two grown children, Josh, 18, and Mary Kate, 21, to receive a job offer because they both have Down syndrome.

“It started 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 at Pathways [a program for individuals with varying abilities] and when people asked her, she always said, ‘I want to work with daddy,'” he added. “But when we started talking about this ice cream business, it was just a natural [thing] to bring her in and bring Josh in too.”

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Joel ended up buying the ice cream truck from another special needs family in Indiana before his wife came up with the name Special treats, regarding their employees with special needs, WLWT reported.

Then the family hit the road in their Loveland community – and the response was nothing but positive.

“Almost every time I go out, I find a family with special needs or with a connection,” Joel explains to WLWT. “It’s just been an incredible journey.”

So far, Joel said their company has “exceeded expectations,” with the truck selling nearly 5,000 desserts, according to WLWT. They have 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 with his children, Joel taught them financial and social skills, such as handling money and dealing with customers, WLWT reported.

Speaking to the outlet, Josh noted that his father also suggested that he [the customers] smile, and he told me he waved at them.”

“Because they love ice cream and scream for ice cream when they ask for ice cream,” the teen added.

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As they continue to run the company together, Joel hopes Special Neat Treats will help raise awareness about the recruiting potential of people of varying abilities.

“It’s much more than selling ice cream,” the father of 10 told WLWT. “It’s going to be an experience for everyone, but to give my kids something to do and show other parents that there might be something creative, out of the box that we can come up with for our family and for our kids.”

“No matter what your abilities are, there is something you can do and you can spread joy and interact with other people,” he added.