Zion Dawkins, Brownsugar’s Balloon Designs and Academy

November 2, 2022

Not everyone has an equal shot at the American Dream. Fortunately, there are dedicated people across Chicagoland who are committed to making sure every child and family has opportunities to achieve their goals. With your support, we can create new possibilities and help make countless dreams come true. With support from donors like you, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation invests in organizations on Chicago’s South and West sides improving the lives of children and families each and every day.


Everyone loves balloons. But Zion took it to the next level and built a business out of her infatuation. 

“I tried experimenting with what I knew, but a class I took with BrownSugar’s Balloon Designs and Academy boosted my confidence and refined my technique,” says Zion, 16. It all started in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, disrupting Zion’s middle school graduation plans. She was bored, and very disappointed. 

After finding out she wouldn’t be able to have a drive-by graduation parade, she decided to create balloon decorations to cheer herself up. Inspired, she kept making the festive designs and placing them around her family’s home. Seeing her enthusiasm, one of her mother’s friends suggested that Zion, 14 at the time, take a class that the friend had taken. “It was a really great experience,” Zion says. “I learned a lot of stuff that I use today in my business.” She started Creative Balloons by Zion in June 2020, coming up with the name on her own. The training she received in the class helped her develop a business plan and pricing strategy. She even made her own QR code.

“I really like helping people. Adding my little touch to someone’s party or to an event that is really special to them means a lot to me.”

Zion Dawkins

Client requests sometimes pose challenges and Zion enjoys overcoming them. “I really like helping people. Adding my little touch to someone’s party or to an event that is really special to them means a lot to me.” 

Iesha Trotter, owner of BrownSugar’s Balloon Designs and Academy, says funds from her for-profit business support her nonprofit community work, which offers young people constructive activities, especially during the summer. She provides workforce preparedness training on how to get a job or start a balloon design or other business. She also was able to hire nine teens this summer with her McCormick Foundation funding.

Zion’s mother, Tamara, says the skills her daughter learned gives her a chance to make money without having to work a grueling shift at a retail store or fast food outlet, which is what many kids her age do. “It’s not just about the money,” Zion says, “it’s about creativity and accomplishment.”