Watch Susan's Video

Most people who go by Susan Shaw's house know it before they get there. How? Easy, it's the smell of fresh baked goods coming from her business, Central Illinois Events and Catering, in Elkhart, Illinois. Whether it's her breads, pies or one of seven types of buttercake, Susan Shaw's business is prospering. The recipe for her success was simple; mix equal parts passion, determination, training, family support and the assistance of The Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation. But as Susan will tell you, the road to success was a challenging one.

In 2002, Susan was successfully employed as a customer service order correspondent in Springfield, Illinois. "I handled the orders from the initial call from the sales representative, till the time the supplies were picked up and taken away." Susan balanced her hectic work schedule with the real passions in her life - her family and her baking. "I always loved baking and cooking for my family and also for people through my church. Baking has always been my passion!" It was then that the road became bumpy.

Susan was home recovering from a surgery when she noticed that she didn't feel well. "I remember I just felt faint, sort of flu-like symptoms. I decided to go the hospital just to make sure things were okay." The news at the hospital surprised everyone. Susan was suffering the effects of a blood infection known as Sepsis, and was in septic shock. "My family was told I was being kept comfortable. They didn't think I was going to make it through this." Susan ended up losing nine of her ten fingers and all ten of her toes. "Those were the long days - I felt pretty hopeless for a while there. But I knew I had lots of family and friends to help me through this."

That support also included contacting the Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services. Staff from DRS's Home Services Program met with Susan and began to plan how they could help her adjust to her return home. "My work with DRS started with the very basics. They (the staff) helped me adjust to doing things without the use of fingers and toes. It really put things in perspective for me."

Little by little Susan began to increase her independence and plan for her future. She informed her DRS counselor that baking was a passion of hers that she would like to pursue for employment. Susan and her counselor worked together, and shortly thereafter she began the Hospitality and Culinary Arts Program at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois.

Having been through so much already, Susan was determined to make it work. "I knew it would be a challenge to make it happen, but I was confident I could start my own business." Susan discussed this with her counselor and they agreed to a business plan. The Division of Rehabilitation Services assisted Susan with some equipment to start her own business, as well as consultation on the business plan. The result was Central Illinois Event and Catering in Elkhart, Illinois.

Susan's business has picked up in a short period of time. "I now go to many of the farmers markets in the area. I also stay busy with catering, and after the beginning of the year I'll start providing cooking classes. Things have really turned out very well." Success for Susan is a recipe she doesn't mind sharing.


To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, (312) 957-4881 VP, or read about DRS's Services. Refer yourself or someone else for services using the online Rehabilitation Services Web Referral.