“This is a fun story and really pretty doable for someone with the energy to make it happen. What a great idea to have an ice cream truck that isn’t driven by a creepy guy!”
This was the email I received the from one of our founders at Friends Life Community (FLC), sharing an article about Hunter Norwood, a young man with Down syndrome who is the CEO of his own ice cream truck. Hunter and his company, A Little Something Extra, have used the ice cream truck model as a way to train and employ other individuals with disabilities. It’s brilliant – I truly can’t think of anything more joyful. And coming off of 2020, everyone needs as much joy as they can get.
I have always heard that innovation grows from times of need and times of crisis. In fact, it is how FLC got its start. If five families had not felt the approaching crisis of their loved ones getting ready to graduate high school without continued supports to give them the life they deserve and want, FLC and all that it is today may never have been a reality. Likewise, we have seen innovation and positive change come from the shared crisis of 2020 and the adaptations the year has required of us all, such as the Friends’ Treat Truck.
I first learned about A Little Something Extra in December of 2020 and it checked so many boxes for what our program and our community had been missing over the last ten months. The concept of an ice cream truck would create opportunities for the Friends to gain back autonomy in their programming, engage with others in the community, build valuable job skills in a safe environment, spread joy and make others smile, and simply have fun. It made a lot of sense for the Friends and costs little overhead to the organization, so win-win!
One of my very favorite things about Friends Life Community is that the whole team gets excited about opportunities for the Friends. We are not afraid of change or tackling a project that we have never done before. We assume our programs and processes will evolve because if we continue to do things the same way we have always done them, then we are not improving. We also value each other’s strengths. We know that something greater comes from working together than what any one of us could do alone. And I am proud to say that these assets were amplified through 2020.
So, with the team on board and the Friends excited, despite not having a truck or treats… yet, we launched the Friends Treat Truck and the excitement caught fire. Our first plan was to remove the first-row seat of our 12-passenger van, bolt in a freezer, run a line to a generator, and sell ice cream out of our van. This evolved into buying a large branded tent and table cloth that could be set up outside the van. And then, one of our community partners got so excited about the opportunity for the Friends that they started researching trailers, purchased one, and made a family project out of renovating it into a functional ice cream “truck” that is pulled by the van. Signcraft USA is a long-time supporter of FLC and is making graphics for the trailer. We have even been sure to include dairy-free and gluten-free options because everyone deserves treats!
The Friends’ Treat Truck is officially open for business and the Friends will be booking events with companies, schools, churches, and nonprofits. The Friends’ Treat Truck will also be showing up alongside performances by the Friends’ dance ensemble and traveling acting troupe, Tandem Troupe. The freezers are stocked, the Friends have their aprons and name tags ready, and they are excited to serve.
While this new inclusive initiative is in action, it is still a work in progress. We have learned not to be afraid to try something new, even if we don’t have all the details figured out or all the pieces perfectly in place. The Friends have taught us the value of prioritizing and adjusting as we go. For example, it’s important to them that we have ice cream and that they have name tags. From there, it will just keep getting better and better. It is so easy in this field to get overwhelmed by the “what if’s” and the fears of something going wrong. It is easy to allow fears to prevent us from taking advantage of innovative ideas or changing models that could be better, yet require unknown challenges. The Friends continue to remind us that they are worth the risk, and because of their goals and what they bring to the team, it is always a positive return.
It is empowering to read about Hunter Norwood and all the individuals, families, supporters, and advocates who lead with courage. They inspire others to take risks and look for opportunities. We are so excited to create opportunities for the Friends to inspire others in the Nashville community by serving up sweets and, more importantly, joy. This venture would not be possible without the total and relentless buy-in of our whole team (staff, board members, families, community supporters) who believe that the Friends deserve the best opportunities and the Nashville community benefits from having them share their talents and strengths.
“From the Friends to the treats, the treat truck is a very sweet experience! I’m so excited to see the treat truck spreading joy around town.” – Natalie, Friends’ Treat Truck customer.
For more information on how you can reserve the Friends Treat Truck at you next event, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waverly Ann Harris is the President and CEO of Friends Life Community (FLC). Waverly Ann has a MS Ed in Applied Behavior Analysis, Graduate Certificate in Conflict Management, and 15 years in nonprofit management. Waverly Ann has been advocating for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families for over 12 years, most recently serving as the President/CEO of Friends Life Community for the last five years. Leading programs centered around innovation, inclusion, and community, Waverly Ann has taken FLC from a grassroots organization to a respected model and leader in the disability field.