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:

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.