History of Nick’s Shaved Ice Paradise
Nicholas (Nick) Bussell was born in 1997. He was born with Down syndrome and was later diagnosed with autism. By 1999, Nick’s dad, Bruce, a longtime vocational special education teacher, knew that Nick’s functioning level was going to be moderately low. It is difficult for individuals with developmental disabilities to find jobs and government agencies are usually no help for people with lower functioning levels. Bruce knew that if Nick would ever work after graduation from school that it would be up to the family to provide the job.
According to a 2018 document from the Department of Labor, only 34% of people with disabilities are employed, but only 18% are employed in a job setting while 13% are in a sheltered work environment. The other 3% are either self-employed or uncategorized. A full 85% of those working in a sheltered environment receive less than minimum wage.¹
Bruce and his wife, Lea Ann, who is also a teacher, began preparing for the day that Nick would graduate. In 2017, they purchased a small shaved ice trailer and, in 2018, opened Nick’s Shaved Ice Paradise. Bruce saw so many of Nick’s friends graduate from school and sit at home with nothing to do so he hired a few of them to work too.
By 2018, Nick’s had 6 employees. They all have developmental disabilities and each worked approximately 10 hours a week from April to early October. They receive above minimum wage and all grew a great deal in their roles on the trailer. The best thing was to watch their confidence grow and to see how proud they are to have a job and to serve people.
Bruce receives calls from parents of other young people with developmental disabilities every week asking if their children can work for Nick’s too. He now has a large list of people, almost 50, who want to work and who cannot find a safe, enriching, and meaningful job. It is this reason that Bruce decided to turn his shaved ice business into a 501c3 nonprofit organization. It would make it possible to be able to seek grants and donations in order to expand and help so many more deserving individuals. The IRS approved the application in January 2020.
The nonprofit is called Nick’s Differently Awesome Outreach, Inc. The name is a result of a conversation that Bruce had with a customer. She asked if the workers were “differently-abled.” Bruce responded that they were “Differently Awesome.” That tag line has stuck and Nick’s Shaved Ice Paradise name is currently undergoing a transition to being renamed Nick’s Differently Awesome.
Nick’s still has the trailer. It is in service from mid-April through October. We leased and renovated a building at the Wolfforth Farmers Market in 2020 and the plan was to stay open there on Saturdays and some Sundays year-round. Having a building just gave us one more avenue to being able to hire more employees.
We opened on March 7th and was able to open the next weekend too. The support was amazing. Some of our employees have more fragile immune systems than others and many of our customers have disabilities and have weak immune systems too, so we decided to shut down operations until the danger of the quickly spreading infection ended.
We reopened in June but the damage had been done. Nick's had to continue paying rent even though it was not open. As a new nonprofit, we were close to a zero balance. It was unlikely that Nick's would be able to survive paying the rent at the farmers market so the decision was to try to save Nick's through a fundraiser.
Our founder, Bruce Bussell, decided to ride his bicycle from Texhoma, Oklahoma to South Padre Island from July 1st to July 13th and have people sponsor each of the 928 miles. A Media and Communications class at Texas Tech had already decided to help us with a social media campaign to drive this campaign forward.
The ride generated enough money to survive into 2021. The decision was made to close the buiding at the farmers market and reopen the trailer. Allen Scott, owner of A.S. Dent Shop on Slide Road, gave a space to Nick's to park and Nick's parked there from September through mid-October. It saved Nick's.
Nick's is open once again It opens on Saturday's and Sunday's from 2 to 8 at A.S. Dent Shop which is at 3034 Slide Rd. and it also opens on Wednesday's at Food King on 82nd Street from 2 to 8. All donations help us stay open even longer. We have enough money currently to stay open into 2022 but the future looks bleak beyond that.
One last thing I want to make clear is that 100% of all money raised by this nonprofit goes to the employees. The board, the executive director, and the manager on the trailer are all 100% volunteers. The manager does not even receive mileage for using his personal truck to haul the trailer around.
¹ Persons with a Disability, 2018 Current Population Survey (CPS) Division of Labor Force Statistics News Release Date: February 26, 2019, Presentation for ODEP: March 27, 2019
Nick's depends on donations to stay in operation as it has never turned a profit. It costs more than it makes in sales.
We are small but we have the ability to change lives.
Please read how you can make a difference in a small way.