Three Decades of Service at Sunshine Communities

Wood Concrete & Nails

By Justin Horne & Chris Shade

Originally featured in the Spring 2018 issue of Star & Lamp


Pi Kappa Phi and The Ability Experience have created shared experiences
between brothers and the people with disabilities we serve while also cultivating relationships with community partners across the country. Although much has changed since 1977, many of those early partnerships continue to provide our brothers with life-changing opportunities to serve those around us.

On beautiful wooded grounds in northwest Ohio, Sunshine Communities, an organization dedicated to fostering community among people of all abilities, owns a facility bordering a stream and untouched wilderness. Since 1950, they have served their residents through a commitment to compassion and respect modeled after a “a clean home filled with love.” Just a few years after the founding of The Ability Experience, brothers of Pi Kappa Phi from across northwest Ohio began volunteering and developing friendships with each of the residents. In 1985, Sunshine was granted one of the first play units built by The Ability Experience thanks to the hard work of the Beta Iota Chapter (Toledo) and Delta Sigma Chapter (Bowling Green).

In the late 1980s, outdoor recreation for the residents was often a trip around a busy parking lot or down a rural road without a sidewalk. In the spring of 1993, Pi Kappa Phi and The Ability Experience committed to one of the largest community projects to date: a boardwalk that would enable residents to truly experience the beauty of nature.

Over 100 brothers of Pi Kappa Phi from as far away as North Dakota descended upon Maumee, Ohio, that weekend. Their task was simple: construct a boardwalk to allow the Sunshine residents to enjoy the grounds. As the weekend wore on, the weather became brutal. During dinner Saturday night, a torrential downpour began. As sheets of rain fell from the sky, the brothers rallied together and pressed on.

“I just remember that night in spotlights and the pouring rain, you could hear dozens of hammers and the guys were singing ‘You Are My Sunshine,’” said Executive Director Emeritus of The Ability Experience Ken Kaiser. As the sun rose Sunday morning, the first  rays of dawn brought light and warmth to the true accomplishment of those men present. Not only did the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi complete 2,000 feet of boardwalk, but they also built a number of gazebos around the Sunshine property. For the first time since the founding of Sunshine Communities, 500 residents could finally experience the tranquil beauty of the world around them.

Two decades later, on a cold Saturday morning in April 2017, a team of brothers once again arrived in Maumee for Ability Camp. Just a few months before, another team of brothers spent their weekend removing the parts of the original boardwalk damaged by a winter storm that caused flooding and freezing in the area. Over 60 brothers of Pi Kappa Phi and 200 additional volunteers spent their weekend reconstructing a half-mile of boardwalk and ensuring it was raised above the floodplain that caused the original damage.

“Pi Kappa Phi has completed projects over the last 30 years that have helped expand what our residents are able to
do here,” said Debbie Fallon, Volunteer Coordinator at Sunshine. “We don’t have a large enough staff to complete these projects on our own, so their help has been incredible. Just as importantly, they’re regular volunteers, coming out
for friendship visits and dance parties. Whenever we’ve needed someone, they’re always a phone call away”.

Over the course of 2017, Ability Camps across the United States provided over 600 brothers of Pi Kappa Phi the opportunity to develop into servant leaders through shared experiences with people with disabilities. So far this year, The Ability Experience is on track to complete a record-breaking 20 Ability Camps across the country and abroad.

For brothers across the country, partnerships like Sunshine Communities are an opportunity to transform their time and energy into a lasting impact that goes far beyond mere fundraising dollars.

“I helped to build the original boardwalk back in 1993, and I remember the pride we took in making an impact and then seeing the residents and their families being able to experience the outdoors and the creek in a new way,” said Ability Experience board member Mark Urrutia, Beta Iota (Toledo). “Every time I’ve been able to be out at projects like this with Pi Kapps having an ‘Ability Experience,’ I’ve been able to see that same kind of growth that I felt over 30 years ago.”

Through a simple construction project, the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi developed lifelong friendships with the residents of Sunshine Communities. Generation after generation, our brothers continue to give back to this incredible organization. From boardwalk extensions to Journey of Hope friendship visits to weekly volunteerism, Sunshine Communities continues to be a bright spot for both Pi Kappa Phi and The Ability Experience.