Dream Cream Ice Cream serves up cold treats for a variety of causes

A trip to a hospital in Kibogora, Rwanda, is being funded by scoops of Muddy Sneakers (white chocolate ice cream with chocolate peanut candies, milk chocolate flakes and caramel swirl). An Army family will be reunited in Fort Bragg, N.C., with the help of Thin Mint-esque White Lightning. Birthday Bash is redecorating a waiting room for a Downtown Pittsburgh free clinic.

Ice cream is an unconventional way to help people achieve their dreams, but Dream Cream Ice Cream, Downtown, is proving that where there's a scoop, there's a way.

Co-owners Thomas Jamison and his girlfriend, Alecia Shipman, intend to help the community with every scoop served from their storefront at 539 Liberty Ave.

They offer up to a dozen "dream" flavors, each of which benefits a "dreamer" that the couple designate for a period of one month. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds of each scoop -- up to $1,000-- will go to helping that person or organization'sdream come true.

They're looking for people who demonstrate a clear need and good causes.

For instance, when Downtown neighbor Catholic Charities applied at dreamcreamicecream.com for help building a new waiting room for its Free Health Care Center, the couple paired that dream to Birthday Bash. The birthday cake-flavored ice cream with a ribbon of blue frosting and sprinkles has become the store's most popular flavor, raising more than $400 so far for the charity.

"There's a lot of real needs that we've come across," Mr. Jamison said. "We want to be the last piece of financial help that gets you over the hump."

Their own business was enabled by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's Project Pop-Up, an effort to fill empty stores Downtown by offering free, year-long leases.

Dream Cream was inspired by Ms. Shipman's self-professed addiction to cookie dough ice cream, which often resulted in many a midnight run to 7-Eleven on the part of Mr. Jamison. She began to think about making it at home.

"I said, 'That's not a good idea. You'll eat all the product,' " he said with a laugh.

The couple toyed with the idea of an ice cream cart outside PNC Park and Heinz Field, but then Project Pop-Up "dropped into their laps," he said.

They have a history of working to help others, especially people in underprivileged neighborhoods. That's why they didn't open just a regular ice cream store.

They recognize that man cannot live on dreams alone. She also works at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, overseeing education, artist training, art appreciation and outreach programs. He does event planning for the benefit of underserved communities.

Many customers like the chance Dream Cream gives them to be part of helping others.

Josh Avart was in the store for the first time last week just to satisfy his sweet tooth. "I thought I'd come back for the ice cream," he said, "but now I'll be back for the charities, too."

Justin Nwokeji, a dreamer himself who represents the American Liver Foundation, was equally enthused: "Awesome, inspiring, caring, innovative. Yet simple. It makes a great recipe for success."

In addition to the dozen "dream" flavors,Dream Cream offers nine house flavors that include sorbet and low-fat options. Proceeds from those go toward keeping the shop running. The ice cream is made by Perry's in Buffalo, N.Y. One scoop goes for $3.25, two for $4.15 and three for $5.

The dream flavors have raised close to $300 each, more in some cases, and $2,764 total for the dreamers.The totals are updated weekly on the website, where you can also see each dreamer and his or her cause.

Dream Cream opened May 25, slightly later than anticipated due to construction delays. Although the space currently lacks seating and decoration, it hasn't deterred clientele -- on an average day, Mr. Jamison says the shop sees about 500 customers. On a recent weekend, an estimated 1,000 customers came in each day thanks to the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

A good number of the daily customers include staff and volunteers from the Catholic Charities Free Healthcare Center.

The clinic relies mainly on its 153 volunteers, having only seven paid staffers. Several volunteers and staff saw an article about Dream Cream before it opened and mentioned it to Annette Fetchko, Catholic Charities' administrator, and told her they'd like to submit a dream of refurnishing its waiting room.

In return, Catholic Charities committed to 13.5 hours a week of volunteer scooping at the store. Ms. Fetchko said people were more than willing to do one of the 4.5-hour shifts.

"I think we're going to be accused of causing everyone to gain weight because everyone's eating Birthday Bash," she said with a laugh.

"We have had so much fun really being a part of what is essentially what we do every day," she added. "To give back and volunteer and not only help CCFHCC live their dream but others, too."

Both native to Pittsburgh, Mr. Jamison and Ms. Shipman see big things in the future for Dream Cream. They are working with the Project Pop-Up board to negotiate rent past the end of their lease (Oct. 31) so that they can continue. She envisions Dream Cream stores in other major cities across America, though she says this dream of hers is at least two or three years down the road. As she put it, "We want to take on the world."

Ms. Fetchko believes in them. "They get what it means to really help people who have no other way to live their dreams," she said. "To let people dream is an amazing thing."

Jessica Suss: jsuss@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1634. First Published June 21, 2012 4:00 AM


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