Two are heart at Work

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The Business News
January 17, 2011

Mother, son start business to help employ people with specials needs

One year ago, Diane Gustin, of Suamico, made a new year’s resolution, inspired by her son Drew. Drew is an 18-year-old student at Syble Hopp School in De Pere, and he has Down Syndrome.

Diane Gustin’s resolution was to begin a business with the prime mission of employing people with special needs, and with that mission Heart at Work Unlimited began.

The newly-founded business sells flavored popcorns, currently six varieties including caramel chocolate drizzle, cheese pizza, cinnamon bun and chedderhead.

Diane and Drew, the business’s current workers, prepare the popcorn at a commercial kitchen in Algoma.  Heart at Work began selling the popcorn in the fall of 2010 as a fund-raiser for Drew’s school, and has since received a number of corporate gift orders.

“We launched in November as a fund-raiser for Syble-Hopp,” Gustin said. “People started to hear about it, and the next day we got an order for 100 bags for a corporation.”

In early 2010, Diane and Drew Gustin applied and received a Youth Entrepreneurial Award through the Farm Marketing Kitchen, 520 Parkway Street in Algoma. This award helped Diane as she became certified in food sanitation and safety, developed a business plan, and began production of the popcorn.

Gustin and her husband Brian covered the remaining costs of establishing the business.

Gustin understands the work involved with starting and maintaining a business. She and her husband owned Wisconsin Prosthetics’ and Orthotics for many years before selling that business.

“I knew what I was getting into, and I knew how much would be involved,” Gustin said. “My husband and I both have an entrepreneurial spirit, and I think starting a business is something everyone should go through. I don’t have a background in this, I just have a passion for it, so I have to rely on the advice I get from other.”

For Gusin, it is the mission behind Hear at Work that keeps her hard at work.

“The more I have seen kids at Syble Hopp, the more I have been in awe of the sense of pride these kids have, how much they want to work, how good they are at what they do,” Gustin said.

According to Gustin, cuts in funding can make it more difficult for people with special needs to use their skills.

“In past two years, I’ve become so aware of how many very able people with disabilities don’t have enough opportunities,” Gustin said. “Many people, especially young people with disabilities, know that friends their age who are not special needs are getting jobs and working. There are a lot of things these kids aren’t going to do, but working is something many can do really well.”

Hear at Work utilizes the skills of people with special needs in preparing and packaging the popcorn and developing recipes. Gustin said Drew developed the business’s three cheese popcorn varieties, and works on the preparation and packaging processes.

Gustin said Drew also was the inspiration for the choice of popcorn as a signature product; popcorn is gluten-free and Drew has Celiac’s disease, or gluten intolerance.

“I researched a lot of different products, and it just seems like people of ll ages really like popcorn, it’s inexpensive and it makes a great gift.” Gustin said. “People will only buy something for so long simply because they feel like it is a good mission. I knew the product had to be good, and I wanted to be different, which is why we use high-quality ingredients and develop our own recipes.”

According to Gustin, the reaction to the new business has been really important to the developing Heart at Work.

“I’m very proud of the community support,” Gustin said. “We’ve had great support from family and friends and also from a number of professionals in the community who have volunteered their time and services for us.”

Because of the support for business, Gustin said she is confident as the business moves forward. She said Heart at Work plans to work this concession’s stands as well as school fund-raisers in the future, as well as corporate gift orders. The business also will be purchasing a piece of equipment to increase efficiency for candy-coated popcorns; that equipment can be operated by people with special needs.

“My biggest goal is that the efficiency of the processes not push out the population that I am so determined to keep involved,” Gustin said. “That seems to be the easiest thing to do sometimes, but that’s not what I want to do.

The production site of Heart at Work will change in early February to Curative Workshop, 2900 Curry Lane in Green Bay. The Business will contract services from Curative, and the work will be completed by people with special needs.

For Gustin, it all comes back to the importance of providing opportunities for people with special needs.

“I’m hoping that if I start something, maybe it frees other opportunities, and businesses can see how feasible it is to put people with specials needs into really productive job,” Gustin said. “I am learning something every day, and at this stage of my life it’s been a great experience.”

For information, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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