Bobtail Ice Cream Co. is about to offer up employment opportunities for special education school graduates.
Bobtail founders Chris Hill of Lake Forest and Jeff Wilcoxon, the Cove School of Northbrook, and Cove parent Meg Barnhart of Lake Forest are working out the final details to have special education students serve up the company’s product at its Wilmette store.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Barnhart. “We’ve got the right company willing to support this. They’re a great group of guys and have been very helpful.”
“This is very exciting for us,” Cove School Executive Director Sally L. Sover added.
The Cove School and Bobtail match-up is scheduled to start in June.
Barnhart anticipates her son Doug will be part of the work force a year from now when he graduates from Cove. In the meantime, she is working with other parents and children at the school, with Bobtail, and with the school to create a training program for ice-cream sales skills. The school identified skill sets, videotaped the complete process to serve a customer, and bought an ice-cream cart to teach the specifics of scooping and serving cones and other dishes.
“The collaboration came about as a result of our desire to create meaningful work opportunities for my son, Doug, and other kids with special needs,” Barnhart said. “My dream is for Doug to work in an environment that supports his outgoing personality and other strengths.”
Giving customers their ice cream will be a good opportunity for her son since he is “a real people person” and “fun and social,” she said. Doug Barnhart, 15, has a brother Philip, 17, and a sister, Lucy, 13. He is among the volunteers at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest who help with the county-wide PADS homeless shelter program. He has a blue belt in karate, so far, was in the school play, and is the center on the basketball team. Her son Doug loves video games, she said.
Sover said their staff has found work for graduates, such as with Borders Books & Cafe, in the past.
Annemarie Bennett, a Cove teacher, is now helping two students learn technical skills and an understanding of the entire process for an ice-cream sale. They begin work at Bobtail this summer.
“The Cove partnership is our first experience with something like this,” said Chris Hill of Bobtail. “We have always looked for innovative ways to partner with schools in the neighborhoods where we do business and my partners and I agreed this was an exciting way to do that on the North Shore.”
The opportunity with Bobtail started, Hill said, with a brainstorming session he had with Meg Barnhart -- his neighbor -- about improving employment opportunities for Cove students while they were in school and once they graduated.
“During that conversation, we arrived at the idea that a quick-service franchise would be a great way for the family of a special needs graduate to work together on a profitable endeavor after completing high school,” Hill said.
The Cove School, established in 1947, has 142 students with a range of disabilities in grades kindergarten to 12th, said Director of Development Alexandra Argentar. More than a dozen students from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff attend the school.
The school provides highly individualized education and life strategies for children with learning disabilities. Parents are very much a part of the school environment.
“We have wonderful parents here,” said Sover. “They’re involved in our students’ education. You make a big commitment when you come to Cove School.”