Enriching Lives Since 1953

By Karen Coppock

Sunshine Industries is part of The Arc Knox County, a nonprofit organization committed to providing programs and services for people with intellectual disabilities in Knox County; safeguarding their rights and protecting their welfare; and helping each individual achieve the highest possible level of personal growth and independence.

As I toured Sunshine Industries’ 26,000-square-foot warehouse, one of the workers called out to me. When I stopped, he eagerly described his work.

“These are tubes, and we have to do 25 of these,” said Adam* (worker names have been changed) as he showed me glass tubes being packaged for use in brick masonry work. “We put them in Ziploc bags, then Vanessa and Renee put them in boxes. Then, when we run out of these, we get more over there.”

Although Adam has an intellectual disability, he spoke confidently, and his pride in his work was apparent.

Sunshine Industries employs people who have intellectual disabilities, giving them an opportunity to learn job skills in an environment where they will not be exploited. Jackie Johnson, Marketing & Development Coordinator for The Arc Knox County, said Adam has worked at Sunshine Industries for about a year. When asked if he enjoys his work, Adam said yes and enthusiastically shared his ideas for an upcoming fundraiser, listing a car wash and a cornhole game as possibilities. He and his coworkers, all of whom have intellectual disabilities, seemed to enjoy working at their tasks and being part of a crew.

The program is owned and operated by The Arc Knox County, a private nonprofit corporation. Founded in 1953, The Arc is governed by a volunteer board of directors and an executive director. It is supported by fundraising and grants from the United Way and other organizations, as well as through contracts for goods and services with privately owned businesses and the federal government. Sunshine Industries workers are paid an hourly wage as they learn job skills in a supportive environment.

Sunshine Industries is just one of The Arc’s services for people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, autism, and learning disabilities. The Arc provides employment and educational experiences for approximately 75 adults (35 at Sunshine Industries), and it serves more than 250 families as part of their early intervention programs.

They aim to provide good value for the companies they partner with while also teaching the employees important job skills such as workplace safety and good work habits. According to their website, they have worked with more than 18 different companies during the past year, including DeRoyal, Elavon, and Twinings. Jobs include light industrial work subcontracted from area businesses and metal shop jobs. Employees do packaging jobs, as with Adam’s work, or perform tasks such as collating new user information packets for a credit card processing company.

Sunshine Industries also has subcontracts with the federal government to assemble bookshelves, office furniture, and other equipment used in government offices. An industrial-sized paint booth is also available if needed for these larger items.

The warehouse and metal shop look like a workspace at any industrial or assembly plant. Alexis Dyer, Director of Human Resources, explained that the setup was “done by design. We wanted it to have the look and feel of a normal workplace. A lot of the equipment that’s back here was built on-site for us, so they have a lot of redundancies, safety features. That way, individuals with intellectual disabilities can use them.”

As part of their mission, Jackie noted that Sunshine Industries also provides support for the workers through job coaching, exploring possible career interests, and helping with transportation.

“Adam has been vocal about wanting to work at a movie theater,” said Jackie. The support staff can help him discover if that would be a good fit and work toward getting a job in that field. “They [employees] start working and start thinking about what else they can do and where else they would like to be in the community.”

As part of that support, Alexis said, “We try to focus a lot on that prevocational aspect here at Sunshine, because we do want the Adams or Hanks of the world – we absolutely do want them, if that is their desire – to be competitively employed.”

This focus is in line with The Arc’s stated philosophy of helping individuals with disabilities achieve the highest and best possible level of personal growth and independence. Jackie added that as part of that mission, The Arc offers leisure experiences that the individuals might not otherwise be able to have, such as community activities like volunteering, attending local sports events, or participating in a music program.

For more information on Sunshine Industries, other programs, and potential partnerships or needs, please check out The Arc’s website at SunshineKCArc.org or call 865-546-9431.

Mission: Sunshine Industries provides short-term vocational training and long-term sheltered employment. The primary goal is to teach persons with disabilities pre-vocational skills and behaviors in order to move into competitive employment.

The Arc Knox County programs include:

• Early Intervention

• Beta Homes

• Independent Living Program

• Supported Employment

• Community-Based Day Programs

• Facility-Based Day Program

• Leisure Services