Where were you 60 years ago? If you have any memory from 1958, you might recall it’s the year the hula hoop was invented, or the year NASA was formed. You might fondly recall the year when the average cost of a new house was $12,750 and a gallon of gas cost 25 cents. The Clardys and Brileys might look back at 1958 and remember that their children didn’t have a place to learn. One child with Down Syndrome and the other with a severe brain injury resulting in developmental delays couldn’t go to school with their siblings and peers. There were no special education programs in public schools.
Children and adults with disabilities faced a very different life in 1958. It wasn’t until 1975 that the country would put laws in place to protect the rights and meet the individual needs of children with disabilities and their families with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The Clardys and Brileys weren’t ones to sit back and wait on the system. Years before society recognized it, they knew their children were capable and deserving of a quality education, so they started a classroom in the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Rogers. In the first four weeks, six more children had joined and Sunshine School was born. Just three years later, supported by a community of friends and neighbors, the school moved into a new building in Vaughn. For 30 years, young people went through the doors in Vaughn and graduated with skills that would continue to serve them through life. After the state of Arkansas allowed for public schools to teach children with disabilities, Sunshine School opened its first preschool classrooms in 1982 with a belief that early intervention is vital to development. In 1991, with schools integrating children into public school classrooms, and infants, toddlers, and preschoolers being served at two locations, Sunshine School set out to create Community Support services to meet the needs of adults with disabilities.
The school continued to grow exponentially and soon outgrew its facilities. Once again, through the generosity and care of the community, another facility was funded. In January 2007 the agency moved to the current 40,000 square foot facility where over 500 people a year are helped. To better reflect the diversity of the ages and the abilities of the clients served, the name of the agency was changed to the Sunshine School & Development Center in 2013.
Now here we are, celebrating the many miracles and milestones from our 60-year history. Since 1958, a lot about life has changed, like the average cost of a house is $200,000 and kids want iPhones instead of hula hoops. Times may change, but this remains true: individuals with disabilities deserve quality therapy, education, and support services. Thanks to the vision and conviction of two families and support from a community that sees potential not problems, Sunshine School has helped thousands as we envision a world where individuals have the resources they need to reach their full potential as active members in their communities. Thank you for your help getting to this point, let’s keep developing and enriching lives and see what the next 60 years hold.