DuBOIS — Dining out at a restaurant can be difficult for any family, but especially for families of individuals with autism. After hearing about some of their struggles through his practice in DuBois, Dr. Jeffrey Rice decided to help out the local autism community.
Since establishing Dr. Doolittle’s Roadside Cafe on Rich Highway in 2000, Rice has taken pride in watching his dream grow with each passing day. One of his newest endeavors is the Little Caring Caboose, a dining car devoted to families with autistic children.
“I could find no places that really have arrangements for families, who would cater to autistic kids, kids with special needs,” Rice said. “I decided that might be a good avenue to try and give these people an opportunity to go out with their families and enjoy themselves.”
One family, Bob and Lisa Gray and their son, Bradyn, recently gave the restaurant a trial run.
Bradyn, 16, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.
“As most people with autism, he struggles in social situations,” Lisa Gray said. “He is very resistant to change and prefers to follow a daily schedule. He has a very limited diet, also. Because of this, we are unable to participate in most activities unless we prepare ahead of time.”
Gray said Rice has gone to great lengths to research autism and create an environment that is calm, quiet and separate from the usual distractions.
“Our family members can become anxious if they have too much stimulation and noise,” Gray said. “Dr. Rice and his staff are willing to accommodate any need an individual requires to make dining out a positive experience. They will cook special meals and will have the food ready when your family arrives since waiting is hard for most people with autism. Because of Dr. Rice our family was able to spend some time together that most people take for granted. He provided us with a wonderful dining experience.”
The caboose, which is from 1920, is attached to the steam engine that has a bell that can ring, Rice said.
“It was part of a restaurant in Erie,” said Rice, noting that he purchased the caboose about 1 1/2 years ago.
Rice said there is another area at the Dr. Doolittle complex that he is devoting to families with Alzheimer’s/dementia patients.
“They are quiet rooms,” Rice said. “They need a quiet, soothing atmosphere. Occasionally, they have outbursts, but families can’t take them just anywhere. I believe it will be another public service, family-oriented dining experience.”
“We’ll pretty much custom-make the meal to the individual,” Rice said. “We can work on the menu if they need a special type of preparation, we’ll try to accommodate them.”
Anyone interested in using either of the trains for their families can call Dr. Doolittle’s at 375-7080 for reservations.
ST. MARYS — Famed country music performer Joe Diffie is coming to St. Marys Area High School auditorium March 3, with doors opening at 6 p.m.
The show is already two-thirds of the way sold and is “one of the most consistently selling shows” that the group has planned in the past eight years.
Sandy Buerk, owner of St. Marys Auto Body, said she and her partner in planning and co-worker Ryan Herzing talked about bringing in Joe Diffie, who has charted 35 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, five of which peaked at No. 1.
Buerk said this performer has won the hearts of the local people.
Historically, they have had concert goers travel from neighboring states, and even as far as Texas, to attend. This year, the majority of ticket sales are local.
Don’t know Joe Diffie?
Burek doesn’t believe you.
“Most often people come saying they don’t know what the artist sings and then leave sayingg they knew every one of their songs,” Burke said with a laugh.
Among his most notable chart toppers are “John Deere Green,” “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox,” “Honkey Tonk Attitude,” “Bigger Than the Beatles,” and “Pickup Man.”
“Sometimes we look back at all of the artists we’ve brought here and we’re amazed. But really, what’s most amazing is how blown away these performers are with the facility at the school,” Burke explained. “We’re really proud of our school.”
The event started in 2010 when Herzing and Burek were brainstorming and got the idea to bring nationally recognized acts to St. Marys.
They boldly picked up a phone and called an agent who represented Merle Haggard and after an Elk County hunting trip, the relationship was solidified and has been strong ever since.
“Now we’re at the point that we’ve done enough shows that we’re on people’s radar. Nashville knows where Elk County is,” said Burke, who added that the show has already hosted The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Montgomery Gentry, Little Texas, and Sawyer Brown, to name a few.
Each year, a portion of the proceeds are donated to a local cause. Burek said she is still trying to find a need to be filled at the school district, adding that “our hearts are with kids and senior citizens, that is always who we’re trying to help.”
She added each concert costs more to put on than profit generated, however that isn’t what it’s about.
“It’s a celebration,” Burek said. “It’s nice to give something back to the community.”
With less than 500 tickets remaining (out of a total of 1,344 seats), tickets can be purchased at St. Marys Auto Body, by calling (814) 781-1961, or on the web at www.stmarysautobody.com