'The reason the ice cream truck is so perfect is that it has allowed them both to develop their interactive and social skills in a comfortable environment.'
An Ohio father purchased an ice cream van last year so he could give back to his community and create a career path for his son Josh and daughter Mary Kate, who were both born with Down syndrome. Joel Wegener, 61, a retired science teacher, was eager to assist Mary and Josh in securing full-time employment. He bought an old ice cream truck for $6,000 online and after doing some repairs on it, set out to sell ice cream with his two kids.
"My wife had the brilliant idea to name it Special Neat Treats, a play on words of special needs," Wagener told TODAY. After all the fixing and rebranding, the trio finally opened the business up to the public in April last year.
The truck proved to be a major hit with the locals in the family's hometown of Loveland, reported Independent. “When we bought the ice cream truck in January I never expected for this to happen," Wegener said. "The publicity we have received is amazing, and we hope that we can inspire other families with special needs kids to find new and inventive ways to support their children."
"Mary always wanted to work with me, but up until now there hasn’t been a suitable job opportunity for her,” the doting father shared. Mary Kate herself admitted that she's looking forward to "always" working on the truck and said that Wagener was the best dad ever. "When teachers and people would ask her 'What do you want to do when you get older?' she wanted to work with Papa," Wagener said.
"The reason the ice cream truck is so perfect is that it has allowed them both to develop their interactive and social skills in a comfortable environment. When they're at work they practice things like smiling and asking questions - things that before they really struggled with," he continued. "Josh is in his senior year at school so he isn't around as much, but Mary is nearly 22 and therefore no longer eligible for public education. We were worried about what she'd be able to do once she reached this age, but the ice cream truck has really eased our concerns."
Wegener and his wife, Freida—who have eight children in addition to Josh and Mary—are incredibly proud of their children for running the truck successfully. Frieda shared: "We were not afraid of having special needs children or the challenges that came with it."
Josh and Mary also feel extremely grateful for their father, saying, "Our dad is the best dad ever and we love to sell ice cream with him. We have a really fun summer and we hope we have good luck selling ice cream in the future."
In addition to continuing his effort to assist his own children, Wagener hopes to grow the business and assist even more kids with special needs. "As a parent, you have desires," Wagener said. "I don't know that either one of them will ever be totally independent. But we hope to move them in that direction, and I hope they can keep helping me sell ice cream for a long time."