Sunshine Suzy is more than a brand, it’s a way of life. Suzanne Sukalski has been inspiring friends and family with her sunny disposition for thirty years. Throughout her life, Suzy has faced adversity related to having Down Syndrome, but she has never let that define her. Although she has had to work harder than most, she has always been encouraged and supported by those closest to her to embrace life and try to do whatever anyone else could do.
“It can take me longer to learn and do things,” Suzy said. “But I try hard and practice.”
At just thirty years old, she has accomplished more than most. She is an award-winning hotel breakfast hostess, a business owner, a philanthropist, a public speaker, and so much more. Through all her many roles, she spreads the message that while we all have different abilities, we each have a special place in this world.
One key advantage Suzy has had throughout her life is a family and community that has advocated for her along the way.
“Impossible is not in our vocabulary,” said Diane Sukalski, Suzy’s mother. “We say, ‘I’m possible.’”
Anytime Suzy was faced with a challenge in life, Diane, and Suzy’s father, Lawrence, gave her the opportunity to face it head on, knowing she would learn from both triumphs and mistakes. They were deliberate about giving her responsibilities and independence while keeping her safety in mind.
“We wanted Suzy to try what the other children her age were expected to do, even though she would have been given a pass,” Diane said. “How was she to fit in when given the easy way out?”
Sometimes that meant finding the right accommodations to support Suzy in facing those challenges, like connecting with SMILES Center for Independent Living to access their adaptive ski program so Suzy could join the sixth-grade class trip to Mount Kato Ski Resort in Mankato.
When it was time to go to high school, Diane and Lawrence moved Suzy from her smaller school in Granada, Minnesota to the Fairmont High School where there were more opportunities for her.
One notable opportunity was a program that showed Fairmont High School students various work options in the community. During one outing at the Holiday Inn in Fairmont, Suzy was discovered by the manager Jason Subbert and offered a job at the neighboring Hampton Inn.
The hospitality industry has been a great fit for Suzy. She was set up for success with a manager who believed in her, and extra training from her job support agency, STEP, Inc. For the past ten years she has served as the breakfast hostess for the Hampton Inn.
“I really like talking to the hotel guests in the morning and making sure they start their day with a delicious breakfast,” Suzy said. “My co-workers are wonderful and make the job really fun.”
Suzy has made a big impact at the Hampton Inn. In 2017 she was honored with the Head of House award by the Minnesota Lodging Association. The award was for a front-line hourly employee who demonstrated above average care and service to guests as well as co-workers. She has also helped the Hampton Inn achieve a number one rating for service out of 1,200 hotels worldwide. Perhaps it’s her outgoing personality or maybe it’s the homemade cards she shares with guests, but one thing is certain, Suzy has earned the honors bestowed upon her. Although, she humbly shares the spotlight with her co-workers.
“I am proud to be part of this team. I was so happy to get an award for my work as a breakfast hostess,” Suzy said. “I am so thankful for my amazing co-workers who help me be a great breakfast hostess!”
In 2015, with money earned from working at the Hampton Inn, Suzy was able to buy a popcorn machine and wagon. She began making popcorn at weddings and community events. She caught the entrepreneurial bug and wanted to do more. As a fifth-generation farmer, she decided to produce an ag-related product. Soon she was packaging her Sunshine Suzy Super Crunchy Corn Nibblets.
“I am a proud farmer and I wanted to sell something yummy that comes from a farm,” Suzy said. “I tried some corn nibblets and really liked them and thought lots of people would like them too.”
With that, Sunshine Suzy was born, spreading the mission of nourishing the soul, celebrating abilities, and inspiring possibilities.
Suzy was raised in a family that valued working together and supporting one another. According to Diane, their foundation is built on God, love, loyalty, and respect. Those values have impacted Sunshine Suzy. It is truly a family-run business with Suzy leading the pack. Her parents, siblings and even nieces and nephews have helped along the way with contributions of engineering savvy, marketing know-how, taste-testing, and encouragement for Suzy to pursue her dreams. But Suzy is right there in the day-to-day activities of the business, stocking shelves, packaging nibblets and filling orders.
Suzanne Sukalski with her mother, Diane Sukalski
“Suzy is my inspiration and she’s my boss!” Diane said. “She really knows how to keep me on task. She has that leadership skill.”
Super Crunchy Corn Nibblets have been a success. They come in five flavors and three sizes and are packaged in a licensed commercial kitchen on Suzy’s parents’ farm in rural southern Minnesota. Suzy stocks them at local stores as well as selling them online. She also provides custom labeling options for any business who wants to use her nibblets as a promotional product.
One of her first customers was her boss Jay Junker, from the Hampton Inn. When he found out about her Super Crunchy Corn Nibblets, he asked if they could be included in the Hilton Honors gift boxes given to guests.
Producing her Super Crunchy Corn Nibblets has allowed her to share her sunshine across the country and even the world.
“My corn nibblets nourish the body and soul,” Suzy said. “When people see me using my abilities, they think about their own abilities and the possibilities of how to use them to make the world a better place.”
Suzy is certainly leading by example. She is making the world a better place through her own work as a philanthropist. She started by growing and selling sweet corn, with the proceeds being donated to her job support agency, STEP, Inc. Now, she donates her Super Crunchy Corn Nibblets to schools; church groups; area police, sheriff, and fire departments; health care workers; troops overseas; and various fundraisers.
“Sunshine makes people happy, that’s why I try to spread sunshine everywhere I go,” Suzy said. “I want people to believe in themselves and live happy!”
Spreading sunshine doesn’t end with the nibblets. Suzy is also a motivational speaker. Her first speech was at a workshop for high school students exploring post-graduation opportunities. She spoke about her own personal experience working at Hampton Inn and how she was able to learn the skills of her job through the assistance of her job support person from STEP, Inc. She also spoke about believing in herself and having the support of others along the way.
“My boss believed I could succeed,” Suzy said. “I believed in myself, even if others had doubts. My boss and co-workers gave me confidence.”
Since then, she has spoken at elementary and high schools, businesses and even an international delegation from Bhutan, a country in South Asia. As her experiences have grown, so has her message.
“Believe in yourself, use your God-given abilities to be the best you can be,” Suzy tells her audience. “We all have different abilities. We all have a special place in this world. This is my story of self-determination and how I use my abilities to make a difference for others.”
Sunshine Suzy is more than a brand, it’s a reminder from Suzy herself that all of us have a special place in this world. When harnessing our given talents to benefit others we can make a big difference wherever we see the need.
“Suzy has accomplished much and inspired many over the past 30 years,” Diane said. “A positive can-do attitude can be more important than aptitude for success.”
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