BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — Each year, the Maumee Chamber of Commerce presents the River Award to a company or organization that has demonstrated outstanding generosity and civic responsibility.
This year, the honor is presented to Sunshine Communities, a nonprofit organization that supports people of all ages with developmental disabilities. The award will be presented at the Maumee Hometown Hero Awards Banquet on Thursday, March 10.
“Sunshine was started in 1950 by Roy and Georgette Engler, and the primary purpose was to provide a home for their five children. It expanded to serve all children in the area who were developmentally disabled,” Sunshine CEO Jason Abodeely said. “The mission was to create sunshine and bring sunshine to as many people as possible, and we’ve expanded a lot over the years.”
The organization helps provide 24/7 care, in-home care, day programming, supportive employment and more. Each individual who comes to them is able to identify their wants so Sunshine can help them find the best path to live a fulfilling life.
One of the individuals supported by Sunshine is Jack Critchley. He works with the organization’s recycling program – collecting, sorting, crushing and properly disposing of the materials.
“Jack is a great example of what we’re trying to do here, which is give everyone the opportunity to live a full life,” Abodeely said. “That can look different for all of us.”
Critchley is grateful for the opportunities Sunshine has helped him find. The organization has connected him with nice, fun people who make him laugh, he said.
“I’m just thankful I’ve got it made,” Critchley said. “I’m just so glad to be with Sunshine.”
For Critchley and those like him, Sunshine provides support and a community. Thousands of people – from the individuals supported by Sunshine to the staff to the volunteers and the families – form a community that helps and serves.
One of the nominators, Rob Fairchild, said he chose to nominate the organization because of this support they provide to a typically underserved community.
Rob’s sister, Gail Fairchild, required the help of Sunshine Communities after their mother passed away.
“My mother passed away several years ago and she was my sister’s primary caregiver,” Rob said. “My brother, my other sister and I, we knew we didn’t have the capability of caring for my sister the way that my mom did. My mom was a full-time caregiver to my sister, and we needed help. That’s where Sunshine Communities came in.”
The siblings were dealing with the loss of their mother while trying to find the proper care their sister needed, and Sunshine helped them through the process, Rob said.
“For me, they were the bright light when we needed it,” he said.
The staff at Sunshine helped Rob and his siblings find the best home for Gail with people who could provide her the necessary care for both her physical and mental health.
“She needs someone that understands her capabilities,” Rob said. “They gave her a job. She can do that kind of thing. You show her what needs to be done and she’ll do it. She may not do it when you want it done. She’s going to do it when she wants to do it, but she’ll get it done.”
Rob is grateful for all the people at Sunshine and what they have done to support his sister, but he also knows it is not just a job to many of them. It extends beyond the paycheck, as the staff builds relationships with everyone, he said.
“The things that they do is beyond the nursing care, is beyond the physical care, is beyond the mental care,” Rob said. “I know a lot of the employees that work in these communities, when they’re done taking care of my sister, when they’re done taking care of other people’s sisters and brothers and sons and daughters, they go home and take care of their family, too. I don’t think that should be forgotten.”
Likewise, Critchley credits Sunshine for introducing him to so many people who care for him and he cares for in return – from the people who drive him places to the people he works alongside at the recycling program to the roommates he has had.
“That’s really what we’re all about,” Abodeely said. “This award is just recognition of everything we’re trying to do every day for our employees and the people that we support.”