A Dream for Sunbeam
There’s no doubt about it—Sunbeam Family Services has come a long way in its 108 years. It has grown to be one of the oldest and largest community organizations in the state.
The social services agency formed in 1907 when a group of women made it their mission to provide care for orphans in their community. Keeping foster care close to its heart, Sunbeam grew to address the needs of central Oklahoma and now encompasses three additional services: counseling, early childhood education and senior services.
Sunbeam does so much and cares for so many—it’s often not easy for the community to fully grasp what it does. “Our blessing is also our burden,” said Sunbeam CEO Jim Priest. “We start with early childhood, we cross the age spectrum to senior services, and in between we do foster care and counseling. If we don’t provide a service that someone among the poor and working poor needs, we network and connect them with people who do.”
Most notable organizations are known for doing one thing well. But in Sunbeam’s case, the organization offers four services to the community. “In my interactions in the community, I meet people who say ‘Oh, I thought you only did foster care.’ Or, ‘I thought you only did counseling,’” said Erin Engelke, chief external relations officer. “And the truth is, we really serve all ages of the community.”
To paint a picture of its various services, Sunbeam often shares stories about individuals and families who have benefited from the organization’s assistance. Inspiring accounts, like that of a 6-year-old girl who received counseling for anxiety after severe storms rattled her town, help to encourage those in need. Other success stories include scenarios like a young boy with behavioral issues who found a nurturing environment in Sunbeam’s OKC Educare learning program, a senior companion who volunteered time with an Alzheimer’s sufferer and a woman who fulfilled her dream of becoming a foster mom.
Now one of the largest non-profits in Oklahoma, Sunbeam Family Services recently moved into an all-new location at 1100 NW 14th St., Oklahoma City, in January. With early childhood education programs taking place at Oklahoma City Educare, Emerson Alternative High School Early Head Start and Tony Reyes Bilingual Development Center, it now houses its counseling, foster care and senior services programs all in one spot.
That’s a huge benefit to clients, according to Courtney Hyder, external relations coordinator for Sunbeam Family Services.
“A lot of our families might go to Educare for early childhood programs, but they might also need our counseling services,” Hyder said. “Or maybe they’re a grandparent who is raising their grandkid. Being under one roof, it’s going to make it easier for our clients to access all of our services.”
The amenities at Sunbeam’s new location are numerous. It offers a conference room that doubles as a safe room, meeting rooms to host community groups and a large storage room to house family necessities. The location also has a playroom in the foster care wing and two play therapy rooms with a one-way window to facilitate parent/child interaction therapy.
In addition to a new location, Sunbeam is also under new leadership with CEO Jim Priest at the helm since Fall 2014. “It’s kind of a new day at Sunbeam,” Engelke said. “I think it’s a really pivotal time to elevate who we are in the community and shine a brighter light in some degree.”
To help do that, Sunbeam will host its first annual SHINE gala April 30th at the Meinders Hall of Mirrors. To emphasize the importance of family and community, the event will mimic a family-style dinner with attendees sitting at long tables with guests directly across from them. Sunbeam will present one deserving person with the Aspire Award. The first recipient has been chosen—Ray Bitsche, former CEO and member of Sunbeam for 15 years.
“We know we have a long history of tremendous supporters, but it’s a great chance for us to promote the stories of the people we serve and either secure additional donations or new donations in support of our work,” Engelke said.
Sunbeam also invites the community to an open house from 4-6pm May 7, with a ribbon-cutting planned for 4:30pm.
Priest wants to continue the organization’s legacy of trustworthiness and reliability but also respond to new needs. He says Sunbeam will likely invest more in early childhood education and respond to the growing baby boomer population through its senior services programs.
Not only that, Sunbeam wants to address prevention measures, specifically regarding the growing number of delinquent and deprived children. Priest’s “dream for Sunbeam” is to offer more services in substance abuse, counseling and prevention.
“We don’t just want to deal with pressing problems that are presented to us,” Priest said. “We want to find root causes, so another big area of emphasis will be advocacy, raising people’s consciousness about problems presenting themselves in the community and trying to find solutions to root causes so we’re not constantly dealing with the same problems.”
Learn more at sunbeamfamilyservices.org.