Thursday, February 29, 2024

Episode #63: Changing Lives One Scoop at a Time: An Ice Cream Shop with a Mission

Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Cary, NC!
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Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Cary, NC!

Show Notes:

Maddie Rogers, the General Manager of Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Cary, North Carolina, recently sat down with Tonya Wollum on the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast to discuss her experiences in the ice cream industry and what makes her shop unique. One of the things that sets Howdy Homemade Ice Cream apart from other shops is their commitment to employing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Maddie explained that this commitment came about after she completed an internship at Gigi’s Playhouse, a nonprofit organization that provides educational and therapeutic programs for individuals with Down syndrome, autism, and other developmental disabilities. During her time at Gigi’s, Maddie saw firsthand the potential of individuals with IDD and how they could thrive in a work environment with the right support and training.

Maddie emphasized that the key to successfully employing individuals with IDD is to provide them with the right training and support. She explained that people with IDD often learn best through repetition and clear, simple instructions. To accommodate this, Howdy Homemade Ice Cream uses a lecture-based training approach broken up into simple steps, such as a 1, 2, 3 breakdown.

In addition to providing training, Howdy Homemade Ice Cream also provides ongoing support to its employees with IDD. This includes regular check-ins with managers, opportunities for additional training and development, and a supportive work environment where employees are encouraged to ask questions and seek help when needed.

Maddie believes that employing individuals with IDD is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. She explained that individuals with IDD are often highly motivated and dedicated employees who take pride in their work. They also bring a unique perspective and set of skills to the workplace, which can be valuable in a customer-facing industry like ice cream.

One of the things that sets Howdy Homemade Ice Cream apart from other shops is their commitment to making all of their ice cream in-house. This allows them to offer unique flavors that can’t be found anywhere else. If you’re in the area, be sure to visit Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Cary, NC, and tell them you heard about them on the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast!

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Music Used:

“LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


Meet Today’s Guest:

Maddie Rogers is the general manager of Howdy Homemade Ice Cream where they offer amazing ice cream served by amazing people. Maddie helped open the shop in February 2023 to bring more inclusive jobs to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Maddie’s dream is to lower the unemployment rate for those living with IDD and provide a fun and safe place for them to not only scoop ice cream, but to learn valuable life skills. She finished her degree in Human Development and Family Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill in December of 2022 upon completion of her internship with GiGi’s Playhouse. It was there that her passion for those with disabilities grew deeper roots and led her to her current position at Howdy.

Episode #63: Changing Lives One Scoop at a Time

An Ice Cream Shop with a Mission

(Recorded April 19, 2023)
The thumbnail for episode 63 of the Water Prairie Chronicles. The title is "Changing Lives One Scoop at a Time, An Ice Cream Shop with a Mission." There is a photo of Maddie Rogers, the General Manager of Howdy Homemade Ice Cream in Cary, NC. Maddie has long blonde hair and is wearing a light blue shirt.

Ep 63 Interview with Maddie

Tonya: Today we’re talking to the general manager of an ice cream shop who is changing the game when it comes to employment for individuals with disabilities. This shop is not only serving up delicious treats, but also creating meaningful job opportunities and transforming lives. Get ready to hear about the heartwarming stories and impactful mission behind Howdy, homemade ice cream in Carey, North Carolina.

Be sure to stick around to the end of this episode to meet a few of Howdy’s employees too. Welcome to the Water Prairie Chronicles, a podcast created to encourage and support parents of special needs children. I’m Tonya Wollum, and I’m glad you’re here. So today our guest is Maddie Rogers. She’s the general manager of Howdy homemade ice cream in Carrie, North Carolina.

And I had the pleasure of meeting some of her staff after my interview with Michelle and Matthew Schwab at Gigi’s Playhouse Raleigh a few weeks ago. And if you missed that one, I’ll link that one here so you can watch that video or listen to it. I knew that I needed to have Maddie come on and share firsthand what she’s doing with her ice cream shop after taking the visit there.

And so today, Maddie’s agreed to join me. And Maddie, welcome to Water Prairie.

Maddie: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Tonya: So, I didn’t tell much about you. Do you wanna share a little bit about who you are before we go into our, um, our icebreaker?

Maddie: Yeah, sure. So, I, um, actually am not a native from this area, but I moved down here for college, uh, in 2019.

I went to Chapel Hill, um, and just graduated in December with a degree in human development and family Sciences. Congratulations. Um, thank you. And I actually did my college internship at G’S Playhouse, um, at their old location back in Raleigh. Yep. So, I know Matthew and Michelle very well. Yep. Who you just mentioned actually.

And, um, I, that’s how I ended up in this position. Um, another one of my employees, her mom, um, she ended up having connections to both Gigi’s and Howdy and, um, recommended me for the position. And now I’m the general manager of Howdy homemade ice cream right next door to the new Gigi’s location. Wow.

Tonya: Wow. So, you’re, you’re starting off pretty, pretty young here to have just graduated and r be a general manager.

Maddie: Yep, absolutely.

Tonya: So, I, I’ve told you before, but we may have some new listeners, each of our guests this season were playing the game of Two Truths and a lie. So, it’s just a little icebreaker to help you get to know our guests a little bit different from what we’re talking about on the topic. And so, each guest is sharing three facts about themselves.

Two of them are true, one of them is a lie, and your job listeners is to go to social media, to Instagram or Twitter. And to respond to the post there and leave your guesses of which you think is the lie and which are the, which you think are the truths. A week after this airs, we will post the answer. So, you can go back and check your answers and see if you’re right or not.

So, Maddy, do you have your facts ready for us?

Maddie: I do. And they are strange. I will tell you that. Um, so my three facts, for them to figure out if, if it’s a truth or a lie, is number one is I took fencing lessons as a kid. Number two is that I love pickles. And the third one is that I have run a 5k.

Tonya: That’s gonna be hard. We’re gonna have to see, so, so listeners listen through the full interview. Maybe she’ll give you some hints. Somewhere along the way, we’ll see. We’ll see if it comes up or not. Who knows? Have a feeling that the pickles may not come up in the conversation, but we’ll see.

Maddie: It might, you never know. I might throw that in there somewhere. Who knows?

Tonya: Right, right. So, Maddie, what inspired you to help start an ice cream shop that hires individuals with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities?

Maddie: Um, I honestly think I have to go back to seventh grade, Maddie. Um, when I was in seventh grade, my little cousin, his name’s Joel, was born with Down Syndrome.

Um, and so that was kind of my first like firsthand experience with someone with a, with, uh, with IDD and um, I remember just kind of falling in love with him and loving him as a person and watching him grow up, um, and just being a part of his life and seeing how he just completely saw the world in a different way.

Um, I think that’s probably where it initially started. And then, like I said, I did my internship with Gigi’s Playhouse and, well, they were in Raleigh and down Carey. But um, I think, you know, the first day I walked in there, I kind of knew like. This is what I wanna do with my life, and these are the people that I want to, that I want to pour my time, um, into helping and making sure that they have the opportunities that they deserve in life because they have so many things that they don’t get, that they do deserve.

Um, so I think, you know, just honestly being immersed in their lifestyle is what inspired me to just come on board and help start Howdy.

Tonya: Excellent, excellent. Now, Howdy is a chain, is that correct?

Maddie: Yeah. So, it started in, um, in Dallas, Texas. Yeah. The original one was in Dallas. Yeah. And then they branched out a couple of other locations in, in, uh, in Texas.

And now there’s two in North Carolina and there’s um, a couple, you know, out west as well.

Tonya: Do all of them employ individuals with disabilities?

Maddie: Yes. We all share the same mission.

Tonya: Nice. So, um, how have you seen your employees grow and develop as a result of their work at the ice cream shop?

Maddie: That’s a really, really good question.

Um, I actually get this question quite often from just everyday customers. Um, and I think the reason why is because people want to know, like, there’s a why to why we do this, but does it work? Um, yeah, so I think the answer that I would give you is I have seen them specifically work with, um, vocally asking for help.

So that’s something that I’ve really kind of driven home for them is when I’m, when I’m training them, when I’m here and when I’m training my shift managers who are neurotypical to help them, um, I always say, listen, it’s okay for you to ask for help, and I want to hear you use your words. Because even though, you know, not everybody communicates with words, a lot of people can hear those words.

Um, and so it’s really good for them to learn to vocalize that need for any sort of help, you know? Um, so I think that is one of the biggest areas I see in them grow and develop, um, is just learning that it’s okay for them to look at someone and say, Hey, listen, I need help. Um, and I need help with this specific thing.

So, um, I think that that’s probably one of the biggest ways I’ve seen them grow and develop as a role result of, of working in, um, especially in a food service business where a lot of them have not had experience and they, you know, figure out how to wash a dish properly or something like that. But they may need help the first time they do it.

So, they’re learning that it’s okay to not know how to do something all the time. Right, right.

Tonya: The, um, your employees, are they, are they teenagers? Are they adults? What age do you employ?

Maddie: So, we employ starting at age 16, um, and up, so anyone from, you know, I have an employee who’s. 16, 17 years old and I have an EMPLO employee who’s 40 with a disability.

Okay. So, we have all kinds of age ranges here, which actually is something that I really love is because we’re not taking just from one age pool, we’re pulling from just the disability community as a whole. Right.

Tonya: I was thinking about that. Whether they were all brand-new first-time employees or they may have been coming in with some other training when they couldn’t get to you either way.

Maddie: Yeah, sometimes they are first-time employees. I have a lot of first-time employees actually. Um, because cuz of the unemployment rate for people with IDD, uh, which is super high. But yeah, a lot of them have never had a job. Um, and then some of them, of course, have had small jobs or done volunteer work that, that requires them to act like a real, like, like it’s a real job.

Tonya: Right, right. Um, you mentioned a little bit of just a skill that’s been learned, but can you share some success stories or experiences that demonstrate the positive impact that it’s had on the employees?

Maddie: Yeah, for sure. I think, uh, one story comes to mind, um, for an employee of the month, or we call them Heroes of the month here at Howdy.

Um, and her name is Grace. Uh, she, one day I was in the back with the shift manager who was on duty, who was one of my neurotypical employees. And we were having a conversation. I don’t, for the life of me, don’t remember what we were talking about now, but it must have been something important. Um, and so the next thing we know, we go back out to check on Grace and make sure that no, like customers have come in and, and she didn’t need extra support.

And there were four people sitting at a table all with ice cream and they were not there the last time we were out there. And so we came out and we were like, Grace, did you scoop all this ice cream, take all the orders and like put it through our point of sale system and, and take their money and everything?

She was like, oh yeah, I took care of it. It’s fine. And we were like, what? That’s incredible. So, she’d never done that before. So, Grace earned a spot as Hero of the Month from that story for sure. Right. Um, I think it was, it was nuts cuz the, um, the Shift manager and I were both so like, what this, we didn’t know she could do the whole thing by herself.

So, we were just amazed. And so, and not even, I mean, not surprised, but definitely amazed that Grace just kind of showed up and was like, and she was so nonchalant about it, which made it so funny. She was just like, yeah, I did that, which was great. Um, so I think that’s one of my favorite success stories for sure, um, with one of my employees for sure.

Tonya: How do you ensure that your employees. Receive the necessary support and training to succeed in their roles.

Maddie: That’s a huge question. Um, goodness gracious. That’s, that’s a tough one. I think I could probably talk an entire episode about that. Honestly, the first thing that comes to my mind is communication with parents, um, which might not be the most, um, Predictable thing that you would think that I would say.

Uh, but I think something for me, um, personally with the parents of my employees is having an open line of communication with their parents. Cuz most of my employees, their parents are their caregivers, um, and their spokespeople for their lives. Um, so when we have an approach like we do at Howdy, which is basically like an individualistic approach, um, meaning that I take my employees’ abilities on a case-by-case basis, right?

And I, if need be, sit down with those parents and I say, hey, listen, X employee is really struggling in this area and I, I want to know how I can better support them. Like you’re the person who knows them the best. How can I implement maybe some of the things you’ve learned at home? At work so that I can give them the most successful experience.

Um, but also that they know that this is, you know, an ice cream shop, a functioning ice cream shop. So, we have to be able to do our jobs well so that we can serve people well. Um, right. So, to ensure those, I guess, necessary support and training pieces, the parents are a huge, huge part of that. Um, just communication with.

Parents and caregivers, um, or, or guardians or, you know, whoever is in charge of, of them, right? As a person, whoever helps them with their lives, I want to be in contact with that person because they’re the ones who are gonna help me get to know their child or their, you know, the person in, in their care.

Um, so really talking to them, setting up meetings. I’ve had, I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve had in my office or outside on a nice day with, with a parent who I’ve just sat down with them and said, okay, listen. This is what’s going on. It’s not a bad thing. I just need to know how you approach these things so that I can do the same thing and be consistent at work with whoever I’m speaking about.

Right. Um, the other thing that I have found is that training never stops. Um, you know, you say you hear that all the time. It’s like you’re always learning, you’re gonna always be learning. Um, and that’s completely true, but I’m always teaching, so it’s just kind of, the role has slipped. Um, but I feel like I’m always, I’m still always training.

So, this consistent, overseeing observance that I have, um, is part, as part of my job is I use that to say, okay, maybe we can tweak this procedure just a little bit to make it more conducive to a, a better a work environment. Um, for, for my heroes. The other thing that I do is constantly listening to what they’re saying to me, um, to ensure that they’re getting that support and training that they need.

There may be an area, like I said, that they need more help in, and they ask me for that extra help, right? They need a, I, I’ve never had this happen, but if someone needed a pair of headphones at work, like that’s something they could come to me and ask and, and that would be an accommodation that we would make, right?

So that’s one thing that I absolutely love about Howdy is because. We take it on an individualistic case-by-case basis. There’s nothing that you can’t, that my employees can’t come to me about that and say that, you know, I’m gonna say no to them. Right, right. If that’s something that makes them more comfortable, if that’s an extra piece of training that they need, or if that’s just a concern or they have a better idea of a way to do things in the shop, I’m always completely open to that communication coming in and also going out.

Um, that input is super important because they’re the lives that I’m impacting. I need to listen to what they have to say about themselves. Right. So, I think that was a whole roundabout way of saying that, but yes, listening, communication are probably the two main things there.

Tonya: Well, it sounds, sounds like you’re creating a safe space for them so that they can grow in their advocacy skills as well.

Maddie: Yeah, absolutely. And they learn to advocate for each other, which is another thing that, oh yeah, we really love because they’re working on a daily basis with people who are part of the IDD community but may not have the same exact disability that they do. So, they’re learning how to advocate and help their coworkers at the same time.

Tonya: When it’s a skill, whether they stay with you for the long term or they move on to another job, they’re learning skills that are gonna go with them throughout their life. So, absolutely.

Maddie: And that’s, you’re making a difference. Yeah. And that’s something we’re all about here at Howdy is. Not just teaching them how to scoop ice cream, but, but, you know, teaching them how to clean a toilet and teaching them how to wipe a counter and mop a floor, and how to, having adult conversation with a customer.

Um, all of those are, are life skills that they’re gonna take with them into their either next job or into their life as a whole. Um, that’s all something that, that they’re gonna find, you know, important as they go out into the community and continue to do just human things.

Tonya: Yeah. I think it’s a great platform too, and again, just as you were describing what you’re doing, it just sounds like it’s such a safe place for them to be, to be able to kind of stretch their wings and, and make mistakes and learn from them and not Yeah.

Not feel like they’re gonna be criticized all the way through it. The fact that absolutely, you’re reaching out to parents and bringing them in that speaks a lot because, most employers are not gonna do that. So, yeah.

Maddie: See, I think that that’s something that’s completely uncommon, but I’m at an advantage knowing, you know, coming from being an intern and then like you said, going straight to being a general manager.

I know that like communication between, you know, people who are in charge of the life and people who are in charge of the work need to be, you know, in communication for, for, to be a good boss. And so that’s something that I’ve, you know, taken to heart is what would I want in the situation that I was in, you know, six months ago as an intern.

And what was something that I really appreciated about my supervisors when I was an intern. Um, and then applying that to the position that I’m in now.

Tonya: So, for other business owners who are interested in creating job opportunities, like what you’re doing, what advice would you give them?

Maddie: Train well train well, um, and, and hire well, um, the hiring process and the training process are both two things that I really didn’t know anything about.

Um, that, so our owner, Phillip Lynn, um, really has taught me a lot of, of what I know about HR stuff now. Um, but that’s definitely where I would start is hiring well and training well. Um, and what I mean by that is, conducting interviews that are actual interviews, like ask hard questions. Um, they, they can handle so much more than you think that they can.

And you wanna push that limit. You wanna test that limit. You wanna see, you know, how hard those questions are, and, and you wanna know how they’re gonna respond to those questions, um, just like you would with any other neurotypical employee. Um, so that’s definitely something that I did that I’m glad that Philip helped me with, um, was learning how to interview well.

Um, and then the other thing that I’ll spend more time talking about is training, um, and training employees for one. It’s difficult, it’s not an easy thing to do. And I learned that very quickly because I was barely trained myself. And then I was like, okay, now I gotta teach a bunch of people how to do a job that I’m still learning how to do.

Um, right. But the way that I did training was kind of different from, you know what, you know, what normally people would tell me to do. Um, I actually did a lecture-based training broken up into two different parts. Um, and it worked really well. And the reason why I think it worked well was because I kind of drew on my experience at Gigi’s and, and learning, you know, from my internship there and then learning from my classes at UNC.

Um, that people with, with IDD love, like a 1, 2, 3 breakdown, um, where things are simple and said, okay, here’s step one, here’s step two and here’s step three. It doesn’t always have to be a 1, 2, 3. I mean, it can be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or however many bullet points or numbers that you need. But that’s the way I broke down training.

Um, so that’s the way, that’s the way I would tell business owners who want to employ people with IDD or any sort of disability too. Clearly outline, hey, this is the one, two threes of our business, and this is the one, two threes of your expectations. These are the things that you’re expected to know and learn, and this is the way you’re expected to act right at work.

Um, and that really went, it went really well. So, like on opening day when we finally got to the shop, um, and my, my heroes finally got in there for the first time, and they were really working their first shift. And it was crazy that day I was not behind the counter. I was standing there watching them do all of the things that I had verbally taught them, and I was like, whoa, that I can’t believe that it worked that well.

Right. And so, I think I figured out later on, learned later on, now that I’ve been in this job for, what, three, four months now or three months, I guess that the one two threes and structuring training that way for people with disabilities. Really speaks to their brains. You know, you’re gonna have someone that you know is not the same, and that’s just part of being a human in general.

But I really think that’s the piece of advice that I would really drive home is, Use that 1, 2, 3 method of training. If that’s in person, you show the 1, 2, 3 step. Or if that’s in lecture, give them a set of notes or let them ask questions and stop you when you’re talking to them. But that 1, 2, 3 method of teaching, um, of teaching about your business and then teaching about those expectations.

That’s the most important thing that I would say that I would give business owners who want to create jobs for people with IDD. Um, at Howdy, we do have. You know, step-by-step instructions. Um, and they have like clock in numbers when we, when they get in and they, they punch their codes in to clock in and those are all like printed out on a sheet next to them.

We have little order forms. It basically has all of our flavors and toppings organized by a numeric and, um, by an alphabet system. So, each topping is. Correlated to a letter, a capital letter, and each flavor is correlated to a number. So, okay. That way my friends don’t even, like, they don’t even have to be able to fully understand English or be able to fully read, right?

So, they know how to circle those, and they just pass down the line. And that’s still that 1, 2, 3 step, but just in a different, a different way, right? It’s still that visual 1, 2, 3 step, and then when they make milkshakes, right? So, I’ve laminated those instructions. To a t, like to how long, which button to push, you know, all of that kind of stuff, right?

As detailed as possible. And that’s posted right behind the mixer, right behind the blender, um, where our, where we make our milkshakes. So, things like that. And then reminders to wash your hands and reminders of our rules are always there. You know, things like that so that when you are still training, like we were just talking about, active training, you can say, oh, look at your rules.

Those are what we’re gonna talk about today. You know?

Tonya: What are some of the challenges that you faced while running the shop and how have you overcome them?

Maddie: I think that one of the biggest challenges is communication with parents. Um, just to be a hundred percent transparent. I think that, you know, sometimes when you get to the point where you’re not communicating directly with your employees, sometimes, um, you know, things get lost and, and crossed.

Um, I think that is a huge challenge for me. But I think another one that I haven’t mentioned yet is scheduling. Oh, my goodness. Scheduling is wild. Um, especially when you are dealing with sometimes parents handling those situations, um, and those scheduling things. People asking for time off. Um, you know, it just can be a whirlwind when it’s neurotypical people.

But when you add a disability, sometimes the understanding level is a little bit different. So it’s harder to say like, I need you to work an extra hour. Instead of saying that, I’ll have to be like, okay, I’m changing your shift to these hours. Right? And I had to learn all of that scheduling stuff. Um, so scheduling can be a really big challenge.

Um, I think the other challenge is that people from the general public sometimes still expect less of my employees. Um, and I see that and that hurts me. Um, and as the mama bear of the group, I kind of wanna just like, ah, but I can’t. Um, so I have to remember to be nice sometimes, um, because some people, you know, they, they don’t do it out of malice, but they will like, Say if I’m behind the counter, which it happens a lot when I’m behind the counter, I, I get looked at for taking orders and for fixing mistakes and for all of anything, any communication.

It goes to me if I’m behind the counter. And that’s, it’s, it hurts me to know that some people don’t quite understand the world of people with disabilities. Um, the way that I do and the way that. That my employees do. Um, so it’s challenging sometimes to interact with the general public in a, in a situation where I’m so used to working with people with disabilities that I push them, and I know how far I can push them.

And I know that they can do so much more than everyone believes that they can. But out of ignorance, not out of malice. Sometimes, you know, you have a. Someone off the street who may not have interacted with a person with a disability as much as I have, um, who just, just kind of just looks over them. Um, and that’s a huge challenge for me.

One, reigning myself in when that happens. And two is the challenge is, is getting them on board with saying like, hey, this, you know, they can take your order. And then once they see that, it’s awesome because they see the fact that, oh, Ryan or Rebecca or Grace or Alan or any of my employees, oh, they really can do it.

I just didn’t expect that. Right. Um, so that, I guess the, the challenge I said, I would say is overcoming those expectations, um, and showing people that. Those expectations should not change for someone with a disability. The expectations should say the same, but accommodations should be made, um, for those, for those people who need those accommodations.

But yeah, definitely a challenge too, to sometimes work with the general public who. Sometimes just don’t really, just don’t understand the world of someone with IDD. Um, and I think that that’s my job and Howdy’s job and me and Phillip’s job to show people. And I think that’s something, you know, Phillip and I have talked to a lot about is we’re not here just to pl provide employees jobs.

We’re here to show the community that these people are valuable and that they always will be valuable and that will never change. And those expectations of them. Are going to be high at Howdy, and we want people to come in knowing that I have an employee who is trained to talk to them, right? So, don’t talk to me, talk to my employee, talk to the person who is actually there running the show, you know?

Tonya: Yeah, we had, um, last month we had an episode on with, um, the Sanchez family. And part of what we talked about were, cuz the topic was, parenting a child with Down syndrome. Um, part of that interview we discussed some of the common myths surrounding Down syndrome and how do you counteract that?

And so, you’re facing some of that with that? Absolutely. It’s the, absolutely, it’s the misconceptions that are out there. And so, um, so you’re educating your employees, but you’re also educating your customers. And in a practical way. Yeah.

Maddie: Because, and sometimes even parents. Yeah, sometimes even parents.

Tonya: I could see that. But having them, the parents have cared for this child. They’ve maybe bought into the idea that they can’t do more than they’re doing, but this, this may be their first time pushing them out and letting them try something. Oh, absolutely. On their own.

Maddie: So, Mom and Dad, yeah. With parents, it’s not the, you know, they just don’t know.

It’s the fear sometimes with parents, right? And you don’t, I think that’s another part of my job that I really, that I really love is saying, Hey, here’s a progress report for your kiddo. This is what they’ve been doing at work. This is what they’ve been experiencing. This is how they’ve been handling it.

And they’ll, I’ve had so many parents be like, what?

Maddie: Like they did that, like seriously? And I’m like, yeah, yeah, they totally, I thought you taught them how to do that. They were like, no. How did they?

Tonya: So now they can do it at home.

Maddie: There you go. Now they can sweep the kitchen.

Tonya: They can clean the toilet.

Maddie: They know how to clean their bathroom. You’re welcome.

Tonya: In general, how has the community responded to the business and its mission?

Maddie: Yeah, I, I love this question. Um, I get, this is another one of the ones that I get a lot in the shot. Um, and I love to answer it with a story because there’s no better way that I can tell you. And describe to you how the community has responded to having Howdy as part of downtown Carey than this story.

So, I’ll just, I’ll just go ahead and tell you the story. So, on opening day, uh, February 11th of this year, 2023 was, that was our opening day. So, we get there. Next thing I know, I look out the window and there’s people in chairs outside my door and I was like, oh, alright, so maybe we bit off more than we can chew.

Little fear starts setting in right there, you know, but I was also excited. So, we opened the doors and I looked down the street and the line is wrapped around the building, like wrapped around the street. Wow. These people from this community came out in droves to support the opening day of this shop.

We, we had, uh, you know, done a social media presence before opening and things like that, but it was. Unreal. Like I’m still kind of speechless about it because it was unreal. I walked out the door. I was the one who got to open the door for the first time. It was so much fun. But when I walked outside, I looked down the street and it’s like around the corner, and I was like, Oh my word. This is insane.

Tonya: Um, you can’t seat all those people.

Maddie: No. I was like, okay, we gotta get like to-go Cups going on. Like Right. My staff is brand new to this. I was like, it’s okay. We’re just gonna fly by the seat of our pants. It’ll be fine. Yep. But you know, since then, since then, it hasn’t stopped. Like the, of course that line has not happened since, and I’m kind of thankful for that cuz that was nuts.

Right? But you know, people still come in and they’ll be like, oh, I saw you on opening day. And I’m like, I’m sure you did. I probably don’t remember it because I saw like a thousand people that day. But like people won’t stop coming in. And the amount of emails that I get from. Other community members who have either a connection to the disability community or have a connection to some sort of ice cream, something, um, or a business locally.

I get emails constantly, hey, can we do this collaboration? Hey, can we do this fundraiser with you? Hey, can we? You know, can you cater our event? Um, cuz we do have like a catering department, so we get all kinds of phone calls, emails. From people who came to opening day who saw that wrapped around the street, but people who have talked to, people who have talked to people who have talked to people now know about Howdy, and it just kind of exploded from there.

So, the community has been beyond accepting, being next door to Gigi’s and having a, an active partnership with them has been yeah, a huge networking success for us. Um, here at Howdy and we, you know, love our, our partnership with them. But I mean, we’ve started partnerships with, you know, all kinds of fun stuff.

We just, you know, finished catering, um, an event at Duke, a couple of events at Duke. And so that’s like partnerships that we never really thought we would have this soon. Um, but the community has just been like, Octopus arms, they’ve just grabbed on and pulled us in. And we are so excited that we have such an awesome community.

I’ve been telling people that I’m gonna call Carrie the inclusion boom. Um, because all of a sudden it seems like Carrie has become this hub for the inclusion boom in the triangle for sure. Right. Nice. But yeah, it’s been, it’s been amazing. We’ve had people from esteemed come down and bring us signs and, and stuff that are actually just sitting in my office right over here.

Welcoming us to the town and, and to the community.

Tonya: So those that are listening, um, Esteemed Coffee is in the same general area and they’re, um, hiring similar employees. You talked a little bit about how their, like, what their response has been. How can people support your shop in its mission?

Maddie: Yeah, so the, the biggest way, I think I would say, um, there’s two ways that come to mind.

The first is just coming to the shop. Need to just get in your car, drive down here, park in the parking deck, and walk to the doors. You know, I can guarantee you’re gonna leave with a smile on your face. Um, if not, because of my employees, it’s gonna be because of the ice cream. Believe me, me, we make all of it in house and people, I swear I’ve never seen someone, you know, be upset when they taste ice cream.

Especially Howdy Ice Cream. So yeah, we make all of it here. Um, and that’s a big selling point. A lot of people love that we make our ice cream in-house and, um, that my heroes get to help with that process too. So, first thing I will say is just get in the car, drive down here, experience it. You’re gonna wanna come back.

I can tell you that for sure. I have a hard time leaving myself, and I work here. Um, the other thing, um, that I’ve been working on is very, very, like new in the works is, um, a fundraiser for us. We, um, kind of want to do a big, you know, summer Bash sun, like fun in the sun, some type of fundraiser. Um, I haven’t figured out what the theme is.

I will be taking ideas if anyone, if anyone in the community, anyone listening has ideas for that. Um, but that’s something that we are hopefully going to have this summer that I really want to push out to the community and say, Hey, if you really wanna support us, you know, if you really wanna support what we’re doing here, then, then financially help us out so that we can continue to provide those jobs for people.

Part, as part of the disability community, right? Give us the funds so that we can turn around and create a job for someone that you may know. Um, because, you know, we want to continue expanding and we want to continue going out into more parts of the community and doing the same thing with the same business model and saying, hey, this is what we’ve started.

We want it to grow. Like, you know, Moss on a rock. We want it to go crazy. Um, and we can’t do that without, you know, without the support of the community financially. Right. Um, so I think that’s another thing that I would, I would say that, that we’re really pushing, or that I’m really pushing, and that Philip and I have been talking about is doing a, a, um, a very large.

Summer fundraiser theme, TBD. We don’t know yet. Great details to come, but to come.

Tonya: Ice cream will be related.

Maddie: Yes. There will be ice cream. There will be ice cream. I can promise you there will be ice cream. At some point in that event, it’ll probably be the showcase, the showstopper. Maybe we’ll even create a flavor for the fundraiser.

Who knows? But yes. Supporting us coming into the shop, talking to my employees. They love it. You know, just come in and support them. Um, but really, like, keep an eye out for that fundraiser, um, on our social media and stuff like that. And, um, we will, you know, announce details and things like that. But really coming and participating in that fundraiser or helping, helping me put on a fundraiser, that’s another thing.

Looking for volunteers, um, to help me put on this fundraiser. For sure cuz that’s our first big event where I can use volunteers. Um Right. But yeah, a call for volunteers to help me with fundraiser. Anyone out there listening please? I would love it.

Tonya: Before we wrap up here, is there anything else you’d like to share about the shop or about your employees or your mission?

Maddie: Yeah, um, I think one thing I always answer when someone asks me that after, you know, we’ve been talking for a while, is. The fact that my employees don’t know how much they bless me, um, I think it’s a common misconception that I’m the only one that’s blessing them because I’ve given them a job. I’ve given them a chance, um, and I spend my time with them, and I choose to spend my time with them.

They think that I’m just like a blessing, just a blessing to them. But what they don’t realize is the fact that. When I go home at night and I go to bed, I wake up excited the next morning to come and spend my day with my employees. You know, I get elated to come to work because I get to spend time with my favorite people on the planet, and they just happen to have disabilities.

They don’t, you know, they don’t understand, and the parents specifically, and my employees don’t understand how much of a blessing their families and their children and my employees. Are to my life. They, they fulfill a hole in me that is my calling. Right. You know, God called me to be in the position that I’m in and having people fulfill that and say Your blessing to us automatically becomes a blessing to me.

So, they don’t know how much love and acceptance and just genuine. Joy that they bring my heart just by me being able to, to be their boss, you know, to, to show up and say, all right, today we’re making this flavor of ice cream and I need this much scoop for catering. You know, we dance, we have fun, we laugh, and that’s just, it’s just joyful.

And it brings me, it blesses my heart to know that I’m blessing others, but it blesses my heart more to know. That I’m a part of a community who is constantly blessing me and they just happen to have a disability.

Tonya: It’s, it’s nothing like going to work and not actually working. Because you enjoy it so much.

Maddie: Absolutely. That’s a really good way to put it. It doesn’t really feel like work. I just kind of feel like I get to, you know, play. I mean, you think as a kid, right? You know your dreams are okay, I wanna be a vet, I wanna be Right. You know, an astronaut,

Tonya: an ice cream shop, this kid, come on.

Maddie: Yeah, this kid, I wanna run an ice cream shop.

Well, guess what? I’m 22 years old. I’m an adult. I’m doing that and it’s a lot of fun for sure.

Tonya: All right, Maddie, before we go, how can our listeners get in touch with you if they wanna contact you, or even, um, if you wanna give the address for the shop too, we’ll put, we’ll put all this in the show notes, but go ahead and tell us how, and we’ll, we’ll post that as well.

Maddie: Yeah, we are super active on social media. Um, all of the DMs or messages on Facebook will eventually get back to me, um, or to Philip. Um, so the best way to do that is through probably through our social media, um, which our handle is @howdytriangle. Um, and that’s for pretty much any social media that you could ever think of.

We have Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, those kind of things. Um, direct messaging is great. It, it ends up back at me most of the time. Um, and then our shop address is three 70 South Walker Street. Um, and that’s Cary, downtown Cary. It’s right behind the, the new library. Um, it’s right across the street from, um, the Cary Arts Center.

And then you go right down the street on the backside, we’re on Walker, right where the new park is going in and Howdy is right there.

Tonya: So those that are, those that are in the area, if you park in the parking garage, just walk around the building. She’s, she’s right there. So absolutely easy to find.

Maddie: You’ll see a sign.

Tonya: Maddie, thank you for joining us today. I really appreciate you sharing about what you’re doing at Howdy Homemade ice Cream. Thank you for taking the time to, to kind of connect all the dots for us and to tell us more about, about what you’re doing.

Maddie: Yeah, absolutely. It was such a pleasure getting to, getting to talk to you and letting you into my world and into my employee’s world for sure.


Tonya: So, Allen, what’s your favorite part about working here?

Maddie: Um, getting to meet people and make friends.

Tonya: Annie, what’s yours, what’s your favorite part about working here?

Maddie: Um, my favorite it is, I. She works here. So, I work with my friends. Friends, yeah. It is, she is my friend. She’s my friend mad.

Tonya: Oh, okay. Maddie.

Maddie: So, Maddie’s the general manager.

So that’s how um, Anna got hired because Maddie had been her tutor. Oh, when, when you were at Gigi’s.

Anna: Right.

Tonya: Okay,

Cherie: So, she asked her if she’d want to come work here. So, you know, so a lot of, and it’s been really fun to see some connections that have happened, you know, with all the employees since.

Tonya: What is your favorite process of that?

Anna: My favorite It is, um, uh, uh, iPad,

Cherie: this cash.

Tonya: Oh, do

Allen: I like the, the, um, cash register. This is, um, fun, but I like doing the toppings and stuff.

Tonya: Oh yeah.

Allen: Even though I’m really messy at it. Especially the sprinkles.

Cherie: That’s what the tray is,

Tonya: yeah.

Cherie: That’s what the trays for.

Allen: Yeah.

Tonya: So, are you, um, do you smell like ice cream by the time you’re finished with the shift?

Allen: No. Um, I don’t think I smell like ice cream, but I want ice cream by the time I’m done with the shift.

Tonya: I was gonna ask, you either want it or you don’t want it at all. So, so, so you, you actually want it by the, by the end of your shift.

Allen: Oh, there, yeah. But, um, I don’t eat ice cream every day after I’ve finished with my shift.

Cherie: Yeah. His mom says once a week. Once a week. Once a week.

Allen: So, I do, uh, at the end of my work week.

Tonya: Oh, nice. So, a little celebration of the, of the week. Yeah, I can see that.

Cherie: Anna gets it every shift, don’t she?

Anna: Mm-hmm.

Cherie: She gets it. She gets it before she just had hers already. She gets it before she can’t wait, so, and she gets marshmallows right on top.

Anna: Yeah.

Cherie: You like that all? So anyway.

Anna: Yeah.

Cherie: So, they enjoy it.

Steve: If you’re enjoying this show and want to support us, consider making a donation at buy me a prayer. Your contribution helps us keep bringing you great content week after week.

Tonya: Thanks for listening to today’s interview. It’s amazing to see the positive impact that can come from creating inclusive employment opportunities.

For individuals with disabilities. If you want to learn more about Howdy homemade ice cream, look for their contact information in the show notes. And if you’re in the area, stop by for a scoop of ice cream and tell them you’ve heard about them on the Water Prairie Chronicles.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

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