Sunshine Communities: A story on a special place that lifts up individuals with disabilities

Watch Hanssel Martinez-Guerra’s video, featuring drone footage of the complex:

Story by CienNia Robbins

For our final multimedia assignment, my Visual Storytelling class at Owens Community College went on a field trip to Sunshine Communities in Maumee, Ohio.

According to their website, Sunshine Communities supports men, women and children with developmental disabilities, and offers residential, vocational and clinical support. It also offers therapeutic and recreational programs. Sunshine celebrates differences, changes lives and grow the future.  Sunshine also owns and operates a coffee shop and an art studio in Downtown Maumee, Ohio, which gives them a chance to hone their working skills.

It was my job to check out Sunshine Studios and Georgette’s Grounds & Gifts. The first place I visited was Sunshine Studios. Walking in, I could tell it was a great environment. Sunshine Studios is a community art studio, open to artist of all ages, experiences and abilities.

The Sunshine Gallery

The studio was opened in 2014 and is owned and operated by Sunshine Communities. The studio offers art by local painters, jewelry makers and others, and it employs more than a dozen men and women with developmental disabilities who work in textile, clay and other art. Sunshine studios also offers art classes for artists of all experiences.

Visual Storytelling class

I was completely blown away by the hard work that the men and women put into their art work. It definetly showed in how amazing their art turned out. While there, I witnessed a couple of ladies who had brought in two handmade quilts. When I ask what they were for they explained that they were from a group, called The Black Swamp Benefit. What they do is hand-make these quilts, then auction them off for a great deal of money and donate that money to Sunshine Communities.

I was very touched by this. It’s amazing that there are people who put in that much time and effort to do these things for other people. After visiting the studio, I headed over to Georgette’s, which is only a few store fronts away from Sunshine Studios.

Georgette’s Grounds & Gifts is a coffee shop that offers supported employment to workers with disabilities in its kitchen, its customer service, its gift shop and other areas.

The coffee shop is named after Georgette Engler, “who was a mother, a visionary, a caregiver and one strong-willed woman,” according to the website.

Georgette Engler

She and her husband, Roy, raised five children with disabilities at a time when others often institutionalized those who were different. Georgette’s has the same great atmosphere as Sunshine Studios, where everyone was working hard, and would do anything to make you smile.

I really enjoyed this assignment to document those hard-working employees, and I would love to go back to visit, maybe even volunteer, and would recommend that everyone go and check out their services.

View photo mosaic by CienNia Robbins:

Listen to Cameron Reef’s podcast interview:

View Alex Brady’s photo gallery:

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The small yet mighty Visual Storytelling class from left: CienNia Robbins, Hanssel Martinez-Guerra, Cameron Reef, Alex Grady and me, their humble instructor, Lori King

Bittersweet Farms: A small farm with big heart for the autistic

Faces of Bittersweet Farms

Beth. The first Bittersweet Farms resident. For the final project of the fall 2016 Visual Storytelling course at Owens Community College, we traveled to Bittersweet Farms in Whitehouse, Ohio. The students worked together to create a multimedia story on the adults and adolescents with autism who live and work there. All students were required to shoot at least one portrait photograph each, and then given different tasks: create a podcast, a video, portraits, and a photo slideshow on the farm. (Photo by Bailey Bullock)

By Kyle Benner 

Ever since its creation in the late 1970s, Bittersweet Farms has been a safe haven for autistic people where they can live and perform different tasks and activities.

Jamie, a worker at Bittersweet Farms since 2007, said, “The staff that work here understands our disability and are able to help us.”

The farm includes an art studio, a kitchen, greenhouses, and an animal barn, where residents can work on tasks. Bittersweet Farms also hosts recreational community events that give residents and workers a chance to communicate and work on social skills. However, the residents and workers aren’t the only ones who benefit from this facility. Shannon Solt, Development and Marketing coordinator at Bittersweet Farms, described Bittersweet Farms as “a very unique and magical place to work, and everybody who’s here wants to be here and loves what they do.”

One resident who lives up to this statement is Beth. Beth was the first resident to move into Bittersweet Farms in 1983. Beth’s parents helped found the organization. As Beth spoke, she was crafting a handmade placemat, and she explained that Bittersweet Farms has its own online Etsy shop, and they complete various orders every day.

interactionBeth seemed very proud of her work, including some of her glass art. Along with working in the art room around two mornings a week, Beth participates in other activities, as well. Some of her other duties include taking temperatures in the green room, groundskeeping, and gardening.

Though she enjoys performing these duties, her favorite activity is mowing the lawn. Beth raved about the new zero-turn mower, and her face lit up as she explained how the process calms her, and how she believes that it helps autistic people use the dual function of their brains. Beth said she cannot wait until the weather warms up again so she has another opportunity to use the mower.

While Beth was very vocal with the class, some residents and workers had much more trouble connecting to people and socializing. Though some did not speak as much, everyone the class spoke with had one common aspect they enjoyed; the people. From staff, to workers, to residents, the community is undoubtedly the driving force for its success, and the success of the autistic people who participate. For this reason, Bittersweet Farms plays a vital part in helping autistic people develop social skills and putting them with other autistic people who share in the disability.

Because of Bittersweet Farms’ creation in the late 1970’s, autistic people like Beth and countless others now have a community where they can express themselves, work toward goals, and make friends that help them all develop social skills.

This little farm is making a big difference for those who may not otherwise have a voice.

Podcast: Bittersweet Farms podcast via audioBoom by Kyle Benner

Video: Bittersweet Farms: A small farm with big heart for the autistic via YouTube by Anastasia Baker

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Faces of Visual Storytelling students

Faces of Visual Storytelling students:

Toledo holds its first Jeep Fest, and Jeep lovers all understood

The Jeep Fest Parade on August 13 lasted 1.5 hours, and stretched down Huron Street in Downtown Toledo. (All Photos by Jana Life)

By Jana Life

Thousands of people braved the intense humidity and threatening rain during Toledo’s first Jeep Fest, which celebrated a vehicle that has inspired a culture of fun since the tradition of Jeep began almost 80 years ago, with the production of the CJ model used for military purposes.

It seemed that many residents of the 419 area and Jeep lovers everywhere had been waiting for this event since that first car rolled off the assembly line at the Toledo Jeep plant, which has since been demolished.

The morning parade boasted over 700 vehicles, and there were about 900 at the day-long event. There were old Jeeps and new Jeeps, and clean Jeeps and Jeeps covered in mud.

An Ohio State Wrangler stops during the parade to climb over Michigan.

The condition didn’t matter. Each owner drove through the downtown streets with pride, and the gawkers looked on in awe. From the youngest children to the oldest war veterans, it was as if everyone came out that day to say, ‘Look at this amazing little car that has brought us so much joy, and we made it right here in our own town.’

All day, downtown Toledo was teeming with complete and utter pride. With every Wrangler t-shirt and every devoted fan crowded around their precious cars, it was an aura of bliss in being surrounded by hundreds of people who were all thinking the same thing: Jeeps. Are. Awesome.

But especially, there was a quiet satisfaction in knowing that not one person that day would have to shake their head and utter the seven words every Jeep owner has said at one time or another:

“It’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand.”

Owens Intro to PJ students create magazine for final project

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This photo story on the Sunshine Community in Whitehouse, Ohio was created during the spring 2016 semester by Owens Community College Introduction to Photojournalism students. It was their final project.

With guidance from instructor Lori King, each student was responsible for all of the shooting, writing and designing. This is the first time this story has been published.

This semester, a new crop of students will have the same opportunity. However, the course has been changed from Intro to PJ to Visual Storytelling. And the story will hopefully be on Lott Industries on Hill Ave.

For the next four months, students from Owens will be submitting their work to this visual storytelling blog, so please follow us if you want to be informed on new content!

For more on the Owens class, go to King’s Klass Blog.

Local photographer documents RNC convention in Believeland

Title Image
Photos by Connor Martin

By Connor Martin

So, what was it like to be there?

First, I want to comment on how difficult it was for me to write this and keep my thoughts clear and concise, especially now that the Democratic National Convention is underway. I want to state that from my several rally experiences this year, the “Trump Movement” was initially and now continues to be fueled by emotions of hate, discrimination, frustration and FEAR.

Now to be fair, I believe these kinds of feelings can manifest in both positive and negative beliefs, actions and policies when they are supported by facts. Listen to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (Republican) discuss how feelings TRUMP facts here.

NominationMy fact is that I shot what I saw and experienced. I do acknowledge that certain conservative groups who identified with Trump’s platform continued to find their way in front of my lens, but this was not predetermined.

This photo essay exists as a window into my personal convention experience. So, without any further introduction, welcome to Believeland, home of the 2016 Republican National Convention that took place in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena July 18-21.

For all you Toledoans out there, Donald Trump spoke at the Huntington Center July 27.

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Mud Hens game reinspires a student photojournalist’s dream

Photos by Jana Life

By Jana Life

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Jana Life

If you grew up near Northwest Ohio, you probably have gone to a Mud Hens game, where you can lick Toft’s ice-cream cones, eat Tony Packo’s hot dogs, meet Muddy and Muddona, and watch fireworks.

These are all important staples of a night at Fifth Third Field in Downtown Toledo.

My own fondest memories of the Mud Hens came from my time in high school at Anthony Wayne, when I was a staff member for our monthly newspaper. For three years I dedicated myself wholeheartedly to each issue of the ‘General’s Dispatch.’ My roles evolved from staff writer to entertainment editor, and then to co-editor-in-chief and photographer.

Journalism class is what kept the eight-hour days bearable. Even though it was the apex of my high school career, I never saw myself pursuing it beyond those four years. It was fun, but not job worthy. ‘That’s for other people,’ I told myself. So when it came time to graduate, I knew I would miss it.

At the end of each school year, our wonderful advisor would take the staff to a Mud Hens baseball game and treat us to PizzaPapalis. In retrospect, I would have never thought I would be sitting in that same stadium with a Toledo Blade photographer only a few years later, seriously considering a career in photojournalism.

IMG_8540aHowever, that is exactly where I was on the night of July 19, 2016.

Last year, on a whim, I enrolled in a basic photography class at Kent State University. After being encouraged by my professor to continue on into a Photojournalism 1 class, I began to fall in love with the idea of storytelling through pictures. But I was still not sure it was a realistic career choice. A mentor at school knew I needed more answers and better exposure to the world of Journalism, so he suggested I contact Lori King, who was an former classmate of his. I emailed her, and she offered to let me shadow her at a Mud Hens game.

Frankly, I think being a photographer scares me. I came into college not having a clue what I wanted to do. I just knew I loved people and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of those around me. When I realized photojournalism combines my passions of art, people, and travel, I knew it was something I had to think about more seriously.

Is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life? Am I good enough to make it? What will my parents think? Will I make enough money?

These were the questions I kept in the back of my mind as we arrived at the stadium that night. A familiar feeling of importance, often experienced by a photographer wielding an expensive camera at an event, washed over me as I passed through the gate. Lori’s 300mm lens rested on my shoulder, which intensified the already sweltering summer heat. We climbed the stairs to the media room, where Blade sports reporter John Wagner filled us in on who he needed photographed.

As soon as I set foot on the field and lifted my camera to meter the light, I felt a rush of adrenaline. Lori gave me full access to wherever I wanted to go and whatever I wanted to shoot. This was more than I ever could have asked for.

Throughout the rest of the night it was so wonderful to get to know Lori and learn how she ended up at the Blade. Even more wonderful was to hear about her family, and how she has successfully juggled being a mother and a photojournalist.

Many of the famous photographers I learn about in class lead incredibly complicated lives. They give up everything to move to exotic places and risk their safety every day to get the shot. They sacrifice a family for their work. While this life does sound glamorous and inviting in its own way, I am forced to consider another dream of mine – someday having my own family. When I was first introduced to the world of photojournalism, it seemed that the words mother and photojournalist were mutually exclusive; it was so refreshing to meet Lori and see her live out these two roles successfully.

As we sat in the stadium that night, and later at a table editing pictures together, I felt I could really see myself doing this for the first time. I fell in love with the idea of being a photojournalist all over again, but the dream was finally made tangible. I felt like it was something I was capable of achieving, and not just a lofty idea I entertained sometimes after class or with other photographer friends.

I still don’t know if you will ever see my name underneath a Pulitzer Prize winning photo, or even a picture in a local newspaper, but now I know if I wanted to, I could make that dream a reality.

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