Small business owners make tough decisions daily, but Sylvia Ellsworth, owner of Ellsworth Catering, recently made the decision to put her family first.
Five years ago, Ellsworth's son, Mason, was in a car accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury, which left him wheelchair-bound and paralyzed on his right side. She is closing her catering business today in order to spend more time caring for her son.
"He can't walk or sit up. I have to feed him, clothe him and take care of his hygeine. They call it '100 percent assist,'" Ellsworth said.
Sylvia Ellsworth, left, owner of Ellsworth Catering, works in her kitchen along with her longtime chef, Chris Kaye. Ellsworth will be closing her company today in order to spend more time caring for her son, Mason.
According to Ellsworth, Mason is showing good progress with the help of neurological rehabilitation.
"He has gotten his sense of humor back," she said. "He's doing things we were told he was never going to do. He's learning math with flash cards and he's able to do the calculations in his head."
Ellsworth operated her catering business out of her household kitchen since 1989. Ellsworth Catering provided food for the 2000 Israel-Syria peace talks that took place in Shepherdstown and has catered for politicians and rapper 50 Cent. The company also provided food for local restaurants and fundraiser events and used local, organic foods as much as possible.
Lindsey Spady has been close to the Ellsworth family for 25 years. Spady was a close friend of Melissa, the Ellsworth's eldest daughter, since both of the girls were in first grade.
Spady remembers visiting the Ellsworths growing up and learning about the catering business from behind-the-scenes.
"Sometimes, we'd wash dishes and do little things to help to earn a few bucks so we could get an afterschool snack," Spady said. "When I got a little older, I'd help some of the high school and college students who worked as servers and greeters."
Ellsworth recently helped cater Spady's wedding, and knew the business inside and out.
"I could call her and she would have things down to a science," Spady said. "Sylvia made it look effortless."
Lindsey said her experience with the Ellsworth family and their catering business had a real impact on her.
"I'm one of an entire generation of kids in Shepherdstown who grew up with Ellsworth Catering and worked there. For them to be closing is like the end of an era. I thought it would always be there. It's bigger than a business, it was like a family," she said.
Ellsworth set up a Web page for Mason as a fundraiser. She posts updates on his progress and encourages people who visit the site to leave encouraging notes for Mason. After her business closes, she hopes to be able to better keep up with the site, as well as advocate for awareness about brain injuries.
"There's a brain injury support group that meets on the second Tuesday of each month in the old Hospice building in Martinsburg," Ellsworth said. "We're there from 6:30 until 8:30, and it's not only for those experiencing brain injury, but for their loved ones as well."
Ellsworth said she has learned a lot about brain injuries from her experience.
"It's a lot more prevalent than I knew," she said. "Now, people are opening up to me, talking about their cousin, their neighbor or their spouse who has a brain injury. That kind of support helps so much."
To learn more about Mason's condition or to donate to the Ellsworth family fund, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/masonicyouth.