It seems natural that parents will worry about their children’s future. Who will they become? What will they be? Will they be successful in life? These are all questions I know I’ve asked myself on occasion about my own kids.
But, the truth is, our kids are resilient, and can surprise us with their capabilities when given the right amount of encouragement and resources. That’s what one woman is proving in overcoming the odds and starting her own business when no one would hire her.
At 22 years old, Emma Sykes is beating the odds in all kinds of ways, and it’s inspiring. Emma has Down syndrome, and when she was just a teenager in 2011, she lost her mom to cancer.
Her dad, Tony Sykes, was eager to help her feel successful after she finished school, despite her difficulty speaking (a developmental delay that is a result of Down syndrome).
“When Emma finished school, we contacted several different types of businesses to find work for her,” Tony tells Babble. “No one would employ her. I had always been self-employed and thought, well, why don’t I help Emma set up a business?”
So, they did just that. Tony said that Emma had always loved candles, so he thought candlemaking might be a good idea.
It turned out it was more complicated than he thought. But after he was introduced to Jennifer Del Bel from Illumina for some advice, they decided that together they could help Emma launch her candlemaking business, Downlights.
Jennifer started her own candle business, Illumina, out of her kitchen and it quickly grew to be a popular luxury candle brand in New Zealand. When Tony reached out to her, she says she had been already looking for a “new path” for Illumina.
“When I was introduced to Tony and Emma, there was no hesitation to offer support,” Del Bel tells Babble. “Illumina will continue to help Downlights grow by offering manufacturing advice, premises, etc.”
But, the best part is that they have long-term goals, too — which is to eventually help Emma’s business, Downlights, grow and employ more people with special needs.
When I asked Tony if Emma was excited about the business, he said she was actually overwhelmed at first.
“There was so much to learn, and we are still learning, but we are having so much fun working together as a team under Illumina’s guidance,” says Tony. “It is tiring for Emma, but she loves going to work every day.”
However, Tony has seen a change in Emma, too.
“She is learning so many new skills,” says Tony. “It is just wonderful. You can leave her on her own now on some tasks, so I can see growth her that I always knew she was capable of.”
He says that he hopes that by being self-employed, she can continue to grow as a person.
“I’ve always known she has so much potential, and I think the journey we are on now is going to keep on challenging her (and all of us) and will help her on the road to independence,” he says.
Emma is truly inspiring to me, and to all of those around her. When Tony spoke with Stuff, a New Zealand website, he said: “You can walk around feeling sorry for yourself because supposedly bad things have happened to you, but bad things happen to everybody.”
In speaking with Tony, I can tell that he is dedicated to helping Emma reach her full potential. With the right encouragement and support, our kids really are capable of doing anything they set their minds to.
Emma Sykes is proving that overcoming the odds is exactly what she is going to do, too.
“The hope is that one day, Downlights will not just be a resource for Emma, but will eventually employ other people with special needs,” says Tony.
When I asked him how people like us can support Emma in her business, his answer was simple: “People can help not just Emma by adopting a more inclusive attitude in the workplace and in the community as a whole.”
I think that is something we can get behind.