Listen: Mary Sunarho chats to Katrina Roe. Above: Mary & Jonathan with one of Jonathan’s artworks.
It’s not very often you see a nine-year-old boy to go into business. But that’s what Jonathan Sunarho has done: in partnership with his entrepreneurial mum, Mary Sunarho.
Jonathan has autism and a severe communication disability, so drawing has become an outlet helping him express things he cannot say with words.
When Jonathan and his siblings had all started going to school, his mum Mary, a graphic designer, found herself with time on her hands—and decided to try founding a business.
She uses her own watercolour artworks, along with Jonathan’s drawings, and combined with inspirational words and phrases, to make beautiful everyday objects such as stationery, cards, art prints and bags.
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“In my leisure time I like to paint and I started giving my paintings away for gifts,” Mary said. “People started saying ‘why don’t you start selling them’. I prayed about it, and it seemed God was confirming, ‘if you’re going to paint, you’re going to inspire people’,” she said.
“I knew my son loved painting too. I thought ‘maybe it’s something we can do together’.”
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She said the response to her business, Harvest Collection, has been “phenomenal” and beyond anything she expected.
And the experience has had a very positive impact on both herself and Jonathan. Her son is encouraged by the positive feedback to his art works, and it’s helped strengthen his relationship with his mum.
“He’s got really severe communication disabilities,” Mary explained. “He may not answer a question or acknowledge that he’s being spoken to. It can be very disheartening when people don’t get an answer and think ‘maybe he doesn’t know anything’ and start to walk away. But there’s more to a lot of these children than meets the eye.”
The inspirational story of the business has also encouraged other parents of autistic children.
“Our story has helped parents be brave enough to tell people about their child’s condition.”
“Some parents are afraid of telling people about their child’s condition, but seeing Jonathan’s story published in the media, and the things he’s done in the business, they’re starting to see ‘maybe autism is not the end of the world or the end of their future’,” she said. “It’s helped parents be brave enough to tell people about their child’s condition.”
A description on the Harvest Collection sums up the heart of the business to focus not on disability, but ability: “Together, Jon and Mary invite you to see that there is gift and strength inside each person, even people with great challenges in life. As we choose to focus on our abilities, we shine brighter in our ever growing strength.”