A dad of ten drives an ice cream truck regularly to support his own children with Down Syndrome. Joel Wagener, the father in question, is giving back to both his community and his children. He began operating the ice cream truck business in April 2021 and it just took off from there. “My wife had the brilliant idea to name it Special Neat Treats, a play on words of special needs,” he says to TODAY.
His daughter Mary Kate and son Josh were both born with Down Syndrome, and regularly help out on the truck. That’s when Joel soon realized the truck offered a real future for his kids in being able to pay for a career path for them down the line.
Joel is driving an ice cream truck to support his kids with Down Syndrome
“At every stage, with special needs kids, you look towards the future and what’s their life going to be like in the next phase,” Joel explains. “It also becomes more responsibility of us as parents to say ‘What can we do to give them worth and to allow them to add some value to society?’ That’s very important to us as the parents of Mary Kate and Josh.”
The trio sold tons of ice cream over the summer, even at the local school. “There was a school here that was doing a special program for special needs kids, and they had contacted me and wanted me to bring treats to give out to the students there on an afternoon… A little girl came up and she said ‘Thanks for coming today; you made my day.’ I didn’t cure her autism, I didn’t take care of the other issues in her life, but for one day for one moment, she had a great day.”
He also wants to show love and give back to his community
When he left the school, Joel realized that this isn’t just about selling ice cream—it’s about bringing joy and hope to people, interacting, and connecting. He says that working alongside his kids in this ice cream truck is “the greatest joy,” and he would’ve never believed in a million years that this is what he’d be doing.
Since starting the business, the trio has sold more than 10,000 treats in the Cincinnati area. Joel is hoping to expand the business, even more, to help out more children with special needs. “As a parent, you have desires… 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.”