LEWISTOWN - When Marlin Spickler, director of Sunshine Connection, was told that an expansion of the non-profit was impossible, he refused to accept it. Instead, he took money out of his own pocket so clients could enjoy a space that was all their own with new programs and monthly activities.
"I listened to the consumers and, with their feedback, have worked very hard to put this program together," Spickler said. "The expansion has increased our clients' self-esteem because they are able to do more things and contribute to the community."
Originally, the Sunshine Connection operated a full-service activity center for area residents with mental disabilities as well as a thrift store out of its small building on Juniata Street. Now, that building is completely dedicated to the clients, offering an activity area, dining area, greeting center, television room and computer stations.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Jodi Joiner, assistant secretary of the Sunshine Connection board of directors, gives a tour of the new store area. The drop-in center has expanded to include a warehouse, recycling center, waiting area and offices.
The Annex Store has been moved next door, taking up one third of an adjacent warehouse. The remainder of the space is used for the Sunshine Connection's new recycling center, store processing area, sewing stations and wood shop.
When the funds are available, the non-profit also plans to add a gym and greenhouse for client use, said Jodi Joiner, assistant secretary of the Sunshine Connection Board of Directors.
"It's really a growing process," Joiner said. "We're getting new clients every week so it's important that we have the space for more opportunities. Some of our clients are so mentally disabled that they end up on the street or in prison. We want to keep them healthy and out of trouble."
The money earned through the store and recycling center goes directly to the Sunshine Connection to fund future projects, events and activities, said Delores Bilger, acting director while Spickler is on sick leave.
"This place is like a second home for a lot of people," Bilger said. "We have a lot of plans in the works. There are a lot of big dreams here. We've already seen an increase in clients from 15 to 50 or 60 depending on the day."
The Sunshine Connection, located at 518 S. Juniata St., Lewistown, is holding an open house from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday to present the expansion to the community. Attendees can enjoy prize giveaways, face painting, raffles, refreshments and a tour of the facility.
For more information, contact the Sunshine Connection at 242-4755 or visit the Sunny Connect Facebook page. The facility's regular hours are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The Annex Store is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and donations are always welcome.