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

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