Emma Sykes, a twenty-two year old from Beachlands, New Zealand has Down syndrome. Because of her genetic condition, Emma has faced discrimination her entire life. Even as a child, Emma was rejected from ten preschools before her parents found one that would accept her.
Her dad, Tony, recalls an especially painful experience during that time:
We had one particular school who were fine with Emma enrolling until they found out she had Down syndrome. Within five minutes they said ‘oh actually, we made a big mistake, we actually don’t have any placements available.’
Emma’s hardships didn’t end there. While dealing with the challenges of growing up with Downs, she also lost her mother to cancer when she was a teenager. Tony raised Emma along with her younger sister, Nicki, who also has Down syndrome, by himself.
One of the main developmental delays caused by Emma’s condition leaves her with an inability to speak. “She understands everything you say,” Tony explained, “but her condition makes her responses really slow, if you get one that is, which is rare.”
These communication issues were likely responsible for the response, or lack thereof, that Emma received from potential employers when she graduated from high school and went out looking for work. She sent out dozens of applications, yet received nary a word in response from most employers.
“I get it. I understand how difficult it would be for an employer to take someone on,” Tony said sadly. “What I didn’t like was they didn’t come back to us and say no.”
Emma and her dad felt like it was preschool all over again. Where in the world would Emma find a place to earn money and find a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done?
The answer came when Emma attended an Ed Sheeran concert with some other kids from her school, the Sommerville Special School in Panmure, east Auckland. A group of parents were discussing how difficult it was for their children to find work, and some suggested starting their own company. The spark of an idea lit up in Emma’s heart, and she decided then and there to turn her hobby, candle making, into a business of her very own.
With Tony’s help, Emma started Downlights, a soy-based candle company. The name is a nod towards Emma’s condition, and she takes great pride in creating beautiful scented candles for this specialized, boutique industry. She trained under fellow candle maker Jennifer Del Bel, the owner of Illumina.
Jennifer said Emma is “very meticulous with her work and you can see she enjoys it.”
In the first week of operation, Emma’s company sold more than 70 candles, and her business continues to grow as more people learn of the incredible story behind these candles. Emma hopes that if the business gets big enough, she can afford to employ other people with Down syndrome, giving them the chance to work that she missed out on getting.
Tony couldn’t be more proud of his daughter, saying that Emma takes after her mother with her cheerful demeanor and positive attitude.
You can walk around feeling sorry for yourself because supposedly bad things have happened to you, but bad things happen to everybody.
Way to go, Emma! We wish you continued success with Downlights!
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