Just like that scene from Jerry Maguire, some people have you at the word "hello." In the case of my nominee for Texan of the Year, mine had me at "Howdy."
"Howdy" is not only the greeting of our area's favorite icon, Big Tex, but it is the way that every employee greets a visitor to Howdy Homemade, an ice cream store that opened in January in Highland Park.
For Texan of the Year I nominate the store's vice president -- and in large part, its inspiration -- Coleman Jones. Like an estimated 400,000 Americans, Coleman was born with an extra chromosome, meaning he has Down syndrome. If you've ever been to the store and met Coleman, you will remember him instantly. He loves giving out free samples, he is genuinely excited to be there, and he clearly understands his role in the store's future success. (If you go on a day when he's not working, look for Coleman's picture on the wall behind the ice cream station. He's proudly wearing his Boy Scout uniform displaying his Eagle Scout pin.)
It is the vision of Howdy's founder Tom Landis to one day hand over the keys of the operation of Howdy Homemade to Coleman. And why not? Coleman is hard-working and conscientious, and his attitude is infectious.
Tom met Coleman when he hired him for a summer internship at Texadelphia, the renowned cheesesteak sandwich shop responsible for several bulging waistlines in our area. It didn't take long for Tom to realize what kind of jolt Coleman gave to his operation. Coleman's spirit leaves a mark on everyone he meets. Not only do customers respond to his joy, but he also has a way of bringing out the best in his fellow employees.
That prompted Tom to develop an idea that should be replicated a thousand times over. He created Howdy Homemade, so named because all of the ice cream is made on site. (If you haven't had their signature flavor, Dr Pepper Chocolate Chip, add it to your Texas bucket list. It's that good. But I digress.)
The secret ingredient behind Howdy Homemade is the large majority of its staff who are among North Texas' special needs population, which is estimated to number approximately 240,000 people. Some people might assume this population has disabilities, but Tom has seen -- ever since that first encounter with Coleman -- just the opposite. He sees abilities, and we all should.
As the parent of a now-deceased special needs angel (thank you for the joy, Jared), not a day went by that I didn't wonder, "What will my child be able to do? Will he be able to be a productive, contributing member of society?" It was often an overwhelming question that began within days of Jared's birth.
For thousands of parents of special needs children everywhere, the answer really can be "yes."
Coleman Jones isn't just Howdy Homemade's vice-president; he's become its best ambassador. He's been part of presentations made to Dr Pepper, which now proudly advertises the ice cream on billboards, and to several grocers who are considering (and they should) stocking Howdy's ice cream in their freezers.
More than that, Coleman represents hope to parents of families with special needs children and adults. These children are everywhere. If you ever want to feel inspired, go visit a transition program at a public high school. You will see students of varying abilities led by adults who are patiently working to train them for jobs. When special needs employees succeed, as companies like La Quinta, Subway and Ruibal's Plants of Texas, which make an effort to hire special needs adults, can attest, you realize how much everyone benefits.
Every day, families across our nation are surprised in hospital delivery rooms when they give birth to children with a genetic syndrome. These families see uncertain futures, to be sure, but also -- in the best cases -- love and pride that is immeasurable. And every one of them searches for hope.
To that I say, look no further than my nominee for Texan of the Year, Coleman Jones. He's not a headline-grabber (police officers and sexual assault survivors will deservedly be among this year's Texan of the Year nominees.)
But he had me at "Howdy."
Jon Dahlander is chief of staff with Highland Park Independent School District. Email: Dahlanj@hpisd.org