When I tell people about Sunshine Prevention Center for Youth & Families, many want to know why the organization is trying to prevent sunshine. In actuality, Sunshine’s “prevention” comes in the form of deterring the problems faced by children today, such as drugs, alcohol and violence. The center provides children with skills that can help them handle these challenges in a positive way.
The word “sunshine” is particularly significant for me because many years of my life were full of darkness, as can be for families who come to Sunshine Prevention Center. But, just like when days are cloudy, somewhere behind the clouds lurks the sun. I now know that after all the darkness, the sun does shine again. I try to help others see this truth, too.
In October 1992, Sunshine began its first prevention-focused workshop in the basement of a local church. Ten children from homes that were affected by alcohol or drug addiction attended on a weekly basis. They participated in social skills lessons and creative activities. Most importantly, the children had the opportunity to share with others the challenges they were experiencing. Because the Long Island community responded in such a positive way to the program, Sunshine started offering a variety of other services to meet the needs of children and families. Programs introduced included divorce and separation support groups, bullying and teasing workshops, parenting classes and summertime prevention programs.
Through the years, Sunshine’s reputation as a valuable community resource grew so much that the organization did not have room for all of its program participants in the basement of the church anymore. When it came time to find a new meeting center, Sunshine staff faced a conflict. The concept of acquiring an abandoned building and turning it into a home base seemed easy enough. But it was difficult to find anyone to donate a facility, even to a nonprofit that would benefit the community. Despite all of the doubters who said getting a free building would be impossible, Sunshine plowed ahead and viewed each obstacle as a stepping stone toward its end goal. When one door closed, Sunshine staff believed that better ones opened. And though real estate agents and building owners mocked the idea of giving away space, Sunshine staff did not give up.
All of the hope and hard work paid off when, in 1996, the Town of Brookhaven took a chance on Sunshine by donating a building situated on 16 acres of land. The only catch: The building was in danger of being condemned and it demanded major renovations. Even so, it was apparent that this was a gift and, no matter what, it would be turned into Sunshine’s dream.
Today, almost 17 years from the day it began, Sunshine is a beacon of light on Long Island. It continues to provide prevention-focused programs based on community needs. And along with its social skills programs, Sunshine offers Children and Teen Anger Management; Teen Support Groups, Jr.; Teen Leadership Councils; Multi-Cultural Camps; outreach programs; and Prevention Not Suspension: A Positive Alternative for High-Risk Youth.
Sunshine programs have recently grown once again. Just as in the past, the Town of Brookhaven is supporting Sunshine’s efforts with the Believe in Your Dreams Renovation and Expansion Project. This project is a collaborative effort with the town, all levels of government, businesses, trade unions, schools, families and communities working together to ultimately secure a bigger space for Sunshine.
At Sunshine, every single staff member is practically hand-picked. Staff members share life experiences to help other families that are going through tough times and need a sympathetic ear. Through the years, Sunshine staff has worked with many family members who felt hopeless. They have lived this hopelessness, too. They have also struggled to get a child’s needs met in special ed— and cried while feeling overwhelmed, just like the child who feels left out. Sunshine staffers know the pain of a parent who has lost a child to drugs, the hurt and betrayal of a child abused by someone who was trusted, and the devastation of losing a loved one to suicide.
We share our hope because when things get tough and we wonder if we can keep going on, we know that one day the sun will shine again.