Sunshine Social Club gets a little help from its friends

Posted on Sep 27 2019 in Boone REMC

If friends are the sunshine of life, it makes sense that no matter the challenge making friends and being social should be a priority. Lisa Batts, desperately wanted this for her son, Aron, after he graduated from high school. Aron, who has Down Syndrome, found that opportunities for social outlet and extended education were limited for him and his friends. 

“I went to Texas and looked at the Down Home Ranch,” Batts said. “It gave me so much hope for Aron.”

Down Home Ranch provides residential service for 42 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through social, educational, residential and vocational opportunities. Because she didn’t want to send Aron to Texas, she began to talk to her family and friends about the possibilities here in Boone County. 

Her uncle, Fred Cooney, had been a successful entrepreneur in Indianapolis but wanted to do something good with his success. He purchased eight acres at an auction and helped to renovate a barn for the services the Sunshine Social Club wanted to provide. Five years later, the organization, with a seven-member board, has grown into a social hub for so many adults and volunteers. 

The group offers cooking, arts and crafts, gardening and exercise classes. It hosts a popular annual Halloween party and organizes community service projects. Every year, 24 individuals go on an independent living retreat at Butler University where they experience life on their own amid fun in the city. 

Most of this is made possible through in-kind donations and working with partners. For instance, the Town of Whitestown, hosted the Sunshine Music Festival on Oct. 5. 

The organization also works with Down Syndrome of Indiana and Boone County Special Olympics. Batts notes that starting the organization was easy but keeping volunteers and providing transportation, as well as sustaining the organization financially is still a challenge. Plus, there are her bigger dreams for the people she is working with — independence. 

“My dream for Aron is that he would one day have the luxury and freedom to be on his own,” she said. “This allows him to still have the social network and a community while working. This allows him a vibrant life.”

The Sunshine Social Club is now working with a sister group in its infancy stage of making housing and community part of the equation similar to Down Home Ranch. While Batts notes that there are state and federally funded group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, she says that the opportunities are limited. In May, she traveled back to Texas and met Tony Horton, the founder of Down Home Ranch, who now does consulting work, to start the conversation on making housing a reality. 

On Oct. 11, which is community service day in the REMC world, Boone REMC will spend the day helping the Sunshine Social Club with chores and maintenance around its building. Matt Walters, an energy advisor, has chosen Sunshine Social Club as his service project for the year through the statewide RELITE program.