RAINESVILLE, Ala. (BP) – Michelle Norwood says on a much smaller scale, she might know a little bit of what Noah felt like.
For her it wasn’t an ark – it was an ice cream truck.
“I had seen one for maybe three minutes in my life,” she said. “I was visiting my sister in Memphis one summer, and we walked out and I bought the kids an ice cream.”
But in 2017, Norwood said she woke up night after night at 2 a.m., and God started to speak to her about how to build one.
“I’d wake up, and little by little there would be another idea of what I needed to research or figure out,” she recalled. “I made notes and started making connections.”
It was a new thought, but the purpose behind it had been in Norwood’s mind and heart for years. Hunter – Norwood and her husband Anthony’s middle child – was born with Down syndrome, and from the beginning she has been invested in helping him achieve God’s purpose.
Back to school
“When he was 5, I went back to school to become a special ed teacher,” said Norwood, a member of Rainsville First Baptist Church. “First so I could help him, but also because I knew what it was like to sit on the other side of the table as the parent and feel like you’re failing when your child isn’t hitting the milestones. I wanted them to know that I was on their side and that what their children are capable of just happens on a different timeline.”
She began teaching at the high school level, and as her students started working in the school snack store, she noticed what a difference it was making in their lives.
“They were beginning to thrive,” Norwood said. “They were learning employment skills, and they were being seen. They were knowing each other’s names and calling each other by name.”
At the same time as Hunter was growing up, Norwood continued to pray as she always had – that God would show her and her husband how to guide their son through life.
After a while, she started waking up with ideas for an ice cream truck.
“God showed me how to build it,” Norwood recalled. “We built it from an old FedEx truck, and God put just the right people in our path to direct us and help us.”
In 2019, they launched their new ministry – A Little Something Extra Ice Cream. The “something extra” refers to the additional chromosome that characterizes Down syndrome – but it refers to other things too, Norwood said.
“Hunter has strengths that I don’t have. Just like the body of Christ, God creates us all to glorify Him, and we all don’t have the same talents, we all don’t have the same gifts.”
She and Hunter – the ministry’s CEO – run the truck along with her husband and younger son, Brodie.
Hunter said he loves the unlimited ice cream as well as “meeting lots of new people and, of course, being the boss.”
He also loves working with friends who have been trained to staff the truck with him. They go by the title “Ice Cream Experts.”
“They go through training, and we teach them financial literacy, product knowledge, mock transactions and how to greet customers,” Norwood said. “At the end, they graduate to ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ and get a diploma showing that they’re an Ice Cream Expert.”
She added they do it this way because they want every person involved to get the experience of a typical job or educational setting.
“I also want these parents to see their children succeed and graduate as an Ice Cream Expert,” Norwood said. “It’s been very empowering for the families, and of course for the Experts.”
They wear t-shirts that say things like “I’m so extra” or “I’m an ice cream expert, what’s your superpower?” The sides of the vans are covered with circles that include pictures of the experts’ faces.
“Not only are the Ice Cream Experts being represented on this truck and being seen … they’re kind of famous,” Norwood said.
They started out doing events at churches like vacation Bible schools and fall festivals, and now have a contract with both Auburn University – where Hunter’s older sister, Hope, is a student – and the University of Alabama for football season.
At one game eight other people with Down syndrome who were tailgating with their families came over to meet the Ice Cream Experts, Norwood said.
“They all wanted to meet our experts and meet us and see the truck and thank us. It gave the families hope. It’s happened at every single game we’ve been at.”
The truck is the first of its kind in the nation, and that sort of exposure has given Norwood a chance to encourage other families on a similar journey.
“God has opened doors for us to share publicly about why we’re doing what we’re doing,” she said. “He’s allowing this ice cream truck to show the world that He creates everybody for a purpose.”
David Cofield, pastor of Rainsville FBC, said the ministry is a great reminder of God’s ability to use anyone and everyone.
“Our entire church is energized by what God is doing through Michelle, Hunter and A Little Something Extra Ice Cream,” he said.
And the ministry is expanding. So far, A Little Something Extra Ice Cream has trained 28 young adult Ice Cream Experts across Alabama and Georgia. In May they launched their second truck through ARC of DeKalb County with 40 trained Ice Cream Experts who work the truck and in community-based employment.
Another family is planning to launch the ministry’s third truck in the Madison County (Ala.) area in the spring, Norwood said.
“Our dream is to add truck after truck and opportunity after opportunity. We don’t want to keep this to ourselves.”
The people who make up A Little Something Extra Ice Cream use their tips to support various ministries and help local families at Christmas.
The Great Commission
“One of my favorite things our Experts have done is help send Bibles overseas through The Dwight Gary Missions Foundation,” Norwood said. “My dad, Dwight Gary, went on more than 70 overseas mission trips in his life. After he passed in 2020, his mission team established this foundation and continue the Great Commission.”
Norwood also has written two books about Down syndrome from Hunter’s perspective – “Stars in My Eyes” and “Super Powers.” “Stars” refer to the kaleidoscope-looking Brushfield spots people with Down syndrome often have in their eyes. The book says, “The One who put the stars in the sky put the stars in my eyes. How could I not be awesome?”
Copies of both books have been given to families in Montgomery and Huntsville hospitals that have learned their child may have Down syndrome, and Norwood said that may expand soon.
“I want people to see the wonderment in Hunter,” she said of the books’ message. “I think he’s the coolest thing ever, but I also want them to see us and know that this didn’t break our family. He made our family.”