Our Story

Every Parent hopes their children will…..

Every parent hopes their children will find a career they enjoy, a family of their own and most importantly, to be happy and enjoy life. But what if something totally unexpected alters these dreams forever.

Well, that is exactly what happened to us. As a young family we thought anything would be possible for our boys, Danny 2 ½ and Matthew 1. However, one cold February night these dreams changed forever and we never saw it coming.

Danny and Matthew were typical toddlers who reached all the normal milestones. They loved to play cars, climb, and keep mom and dad very active. Like many families, we kissed our children good night and tucked them into bed, happy to have a few quite moments to ourselves. Little did we know this would be our last night to enjoy such a simple luxury?

When Danny woke up the next morning he walked like he was drunk, looked at me like he could see right through me, and repeatedly moved his arms from side to side as he stood by the couch. The scariest part was that he didn’t respond to us at all. We rushed Danny to our nearest trauma center where he stayed in intensive care for over a week. The team of doctors from around the country ran more tests than any little boy should have to endure. Unfortunately, they never did determine what caused this “illness” but their best guess was that some type of infection invaded Danny’s brain and destroyed lots of tissue.

Ok. So now what?

When we brought Danny home, he couldn’t sit up, walk, or hold a cup. He was like a brand new 40 pound baby. But I did have a list of agencies that would help. How hopeful I was back then. Not realizing how challenging our journey would become.

Like many families with children with disabilities our lives became engulfed with endless paperwork, doctors’ appointments, therapy of all kinds, and a slow realization that many of the agencies designed to help really do not. Slowly I realized that I could either wallow in the “why us” syndrome or become an advocate for my child. As Danny’s advocate I have learned to ask questions to as many people involved in his care as I could, especially the doctors and therapists. Finding the right fit of care providers for Danny was critical to his recovery and I didn’t stop until I found a team that worked for him. This involved moving twice, even to a different state to find the best place for Danny.

Several years into this process, Danny was probably 10; a friend and I were contemplating our children’s futures while we watched them enjoy their therapeutic horseback riding session at SMILES in Darien, Wisconsin. Both of our children have significant intellectual and developmental challenges, so we knew our children’s well-being required action on our part.

We started brainstorming ideas for possible “work opportunities” that our children might enjoy, which would match their skill level. Some of our ideas were pretty crazy, but we’ve both learned that “out of the box thinking” is a necessary ingredient for our children’s happiness. The craziest idea was becoming a kettle corn vendor. I’d never even heard of kettle corn! But something about this intrigued me, so I started researching.

The more I learned, the more I realized this might be a perfect employment opportunity for Danny.

So, in 2011 Poppin’ Z’s Kettle Corn was born.

Ephraim Fyr Ball 2016

Poppin’ Z’s Kettle corn has been a wonderful summer job for Danny.

Danny has a traumatic brain injury and is non-verbal, yet he keeps a very positive attitude. He loves to cook and works hard at his various tasks. He has that prideful feeling of accomplishment after a day of popping popcorn and isn’t that what we all want for our children.

However, as Danny approached graduation from Syble Hopp School, I knew employment for a person with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities is almost impossible to find. So, back to the “out of the box” thinking. How could we extend Danny’s love for popcorn into a year round opportunity?

So, in 2014 Poppin’ Z’s Gourmet Popcorn was born.


Since, we popped open our doors, we have been busy mastering our craft which now includes over 40 flavors of popcorn available for popcorn buffets, fundraising, corporate gifts, wholesale, and our online store. Danny still loves making popcorn and is so excited to share our newest flavor with his friends at the CP Center in DePere, WI.

Poppin’ Z’s is definitely a family business with my youngest son Matthew becoming more than a brother, but an advocate for Danny. Like any sibling of a person with a disability, Matthew’s childhood included all the events surrounding Danny, some I’m sure he didn’t understand or even resented. Matthew was 14 when we made our first batch of kettle corn. Now, as a recent graduate from NWTC in business management, he is eager to develop his management skills as they apply to Poppin’ Z’s.

Twenty years ago when I held my little boys in my arms I didn’t dream of a gourmet popcorn business but God creates paths you were meant to follow. Danny’s traumatic brain injury was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate for people with disabilities.

As our business continues to grow we will provide employment opportunities for other’s just like Danny.

We were fortunate enough this past holiday season to do exactly that with work experience students from Ashwaubenon High School helping with our corporate gift orders. Someday we will be able to provide this worker focused employment year round with help from people just like you.

As the old saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child” and Danny wouldn’t have the skills the doctors said he would never acquire if not for the team of villagers I assembled on his behalf. So, Danny thanks you for reading our story, sharing it with others, and for supporting him at Poppin’ Z’s Gourmet Popcorn. Find out more about Poppin’ Z’s Gourmet Popcorn or to order our delicious popcorn at https://www.poppinzsgourmetpopcorn.com

Thank you for helping Danny’s dreams come true!

Danny is the Popcorn King
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