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Sunshine Social Club encourages independence

The Lebanon Reporter - 7/30/2019

Jul. 30--The Sunshine Social Club in Whitestown is looking toward the future for adults with intellectual disabilities, creating a community where education, socialization, independence and acceptance are encouraged.

Lisa Batts' son Aron, 32, completed high school 12 years ago and began feeling depressed.

"In Texas at the time, we found a place called Down Home Ranch for people with Down syndrome. They live there; they work there and play there," Batts said. "It's like their own little community and it was so inspiring to me, when I came home, I said I wish we could do something like that for Aron."

She made her dream a reality when five years ago, land was purchased in Whitestown and the Sunshine Social Club was born.

The club regularly learns cooking, arts and crafts, gardening and community service skills.

"It's eight acres and we hold events monthly in the Sunshine barn for people in high school or post high school with intellectual disabilities," Batts said. "We teach them independent living, social skills and other skills -- whatever they may need, we work together on that. We want them to have their own community that's safe and fulfilling. So far it's just worked wonderfully."

Each year, the Sunshine Social Club holds a weekend retreat at Butler University, giving participants the chance to live on their own in a dorm-like setting and Batts said the results are impressive.

She said teaching basic living skills is essential.

"They're outliving us," Batts said. "I'm a young parent compared to some, and the answer is, they have siblings and other people that will take care of them. In the grand scheme of things though, they want to be who they are, with their peers in their own environment. So many of them are so capable, it's the parents that are the ones that are scared."

The group's third retreat this past weekend had a theme of "Be the Change you Wish to See in the World."

Whitestown Police Sergeant Jacob King taught a self-defense class. King taught participants about self-awareness and how to handle events in which someone tries to approach or harm them.

An animal care class taught pet care and responsibility toward taking care of animals and several character-building exercises.

"We ask them to name what they see about this person that is great and it's amazing what they come up with because they are all so genuine," Batts said.

Each morning, there was a fitness class to encourage exercise and healthy living and a social event, attending Cirque du Soleil at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"We went to the Spaghetti Factory afterwards and everyone ordered their own food from a special menu the restaurant had prepared for them," Batts said.

This year, 20 individuals went to the retreat and came back more confident and proud of their independence.

"They were so engaged and excited and proud of themselves," Batts said. "It builds confidence and it gives them a feeling of independence. They want to keep feeling that. A lot of them are over the top excited about sharing everything they did.

"My best story from our very first year of the retreat -- we had a man attend our monthly events and he'd just walk around the perimeter of the barn. He wouldn't make eye contact and he didn't like to socialize. When he came to the retreat, we saw such a change in him. His whole demeanor changed, he was shaking hands and introducing himself. He was really engaged."

Batts envisions the next phase of the Sunshine Social Club as a community housing initiative where individuals are safe, cared for, and as independent as possible.

"We never know if we're going to be given tomorrow," she said. "What's fantastic about this group is that we're all parents of an adult and our first priority is their security and safety. They've already built their own community, they've known each other for a long time and while Aron living independently may be the hardest thing I'll ever do, he thrives when he's not in my presence."

Still in the early planning stages, Batts doesn't know what the end result will look like but she knows it'll be safe and encouraging toward individuals who want to live independently.

"We could always build a house for our children to live in in a neighborhood, but will they get invited to the cookouts and the block parties? Probably not. Think of a space with education, exercise and social events in Boone County for people with disabilities," Batts said.

For now, the Sunshine Social Club will continue building their community with events and other special experiences.

From 3-8 p.m.Oct. 5 at the Whitestown Municipal Complex, the group will host a music festival with live '70s and '80s band music, a beer garden, vendors and more.

For more information, visit the website at www.sunshinesocialclub.org.

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(c)2019 The Lebanon Reporter (Lebanon, Ind.)

Visit The Lebanon Reporter (Lebanon, Ind.) at www.reporter.net

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