By Madisen Keavy

MODESTO (CBS13) — An ice cream shop in Modesto that offers employees training and job opportunities they haven’t found anywhere else is at risk of closing and needs continued community support to stay open.

The Ice Cream Company is decorated for the holidays: Holiday trees, nutcrackers, and holiday music play throughout the restaurant. Fresh made ice cream sits ready for sundaes, milkshakes, and scoops and sandwiches are available to order. It’s been family-owned and operated since 1979, bought by Bonnie and Corey Acree in 2012.

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For the last decade, the Acree family has made familiar favorites available to the Modesto community but there’s something else being “scooped” inside this ice cream shop.

“My sister has Down syndrome and she moved in with us and started working here with me and just loves it,” said Bonnie Acree.

The Ice Cream Co. is also a nonprofit, Enrich and Employ. The mission is to hire people who may face boundaries to employment. The business offers opportunities for those with little to no experience, people with special needs, people in recovery programs, or people who did not speak English.

“Seeing what joy it brought to her, of having a job, made her feel really important, just made me feel really motivated to do that for other people,” said Acree.

The nonprofit was created in 2019 to help others become employable and provide training for those with barriers to employment.

Diane hugs coworker Karri Gier, who she calls her, “best buddy.”

In the pandemic, like many small businesses, the Acree’s found the need for their services was in demand, but money was not. Now, the team at the Ice Cream Company is going back to the people that kept them going over the last decade to support in donations to stay open.

“It’s very rewarding to have the people who work here. It’s like a little family,” said Christina McNaught, the Food Manager at the Ice Cream Company.

McNaught is in recovery and has worked at the shop since February 2021. She said her life has changed since she got this job and her confidence has grown because of the experience.

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“Even just having a scoop of ice cream helps us,” said McNaught.

The wall of The Ice Cream Company in Modesto is covered in donations from the community.

Through the end of the year, The Ice Cream Company is holding a donation drive to raise enough money to keep the business going, to keep employees employed, and to potentially expand the nonprofit’s work.

The impact of the shop’s opportunities for employees goes beyond the paycheck, they share through their own stories, but Karri Gier, an employee said, “It gives people life. It’s scooping life.”

Gier contacted Acree for a job when she was only a few months sober. She said, at the time, she wasn’t getting opportunities because of her history, but Acree said she would be welcome at The Ice Cream Co.

“It’s not just a scoop of ice cream,” said Gier.

Now, years after their first conversation, Gier is responsible for making and mixing the handmade ice cream sold in the shop. The consistency she’s found at work, she said, translated into her personal life, too. She works side-by-side with her daughter at the restaurant. Their relationship, she said, likely wouldn’t exist as it is today without the experience she’s had at the business.

These personal stories, Gier said, are why the shop must stay open.

Acree summed it up: “It’s hard to put that in words. it means a lot because of the lives that are changed.”

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Every purchase at The Ice Cream Co. supports training for those with special needs or in recovery. Donations can be made here.