The Sunrise Community of Southwest Florida provides help and developmental disabilities services in Collier county.
Christmas came early — as it does every year — at Sunrise Community of Southwest Florida.
Volunteers and staff made a holiday dream come true for the approximately 70 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the nonprofit serves.
Dylan Vogel, who attends the day program that is the heart of Sunrise Community of Southwest Florida’s operations, said there was a lot about the day he enjoyed, like the weather and the group of people he considers family.
“For a number of them, this is the only Christmas they’re going to get,” he said.
Sunrise Community of Southwest Florida is a smaller arm of Sunrise Community Inc., headquartered in Miami. Cassandra Beaver, the director of operations for the local arm of the nonprofit, said the goal of the organization is to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
“A lot of them live at home with aging parents that wouldn’t be able to get out in the community and do things or look for jobs,” Beaver said.
A day before the event, Beaver said she anticipated true excitement from the crowd who would be enjoying Christmas songs, pizza, and a visit from Santa to deliver their gifts.
She was right.
Before some of the Christmas songs ended, the crowd erupted into applause and cheers, dancing to the music and vocals provided by volunteers from the Golden Gate Assembly of God and Faith Life Worship Center.
“It’s like happiness on steroids,” Beaver said.
Bill Reese, whose grandson Randy Reese attends the day program, works in senior ministry at the Golden Gate Assembly of God.
“It’s sometimes neglected and assumed somebody is taking care of it,” the elder Reese said of Sunrise Community. “It adds a real depth to the Christmas experience when you share it.”
Anthony Baldwin volunteers with the center and dressed up as Santa Claus to deliver presents. An anonymous donor contributed Target gift cards, which Sunrise Community of Southwest Florida used to take the program’s participants shopping. Their selections were then wrapped and redistributed by Baldwin, dressed as Santa.
Baldwin, who is a bus driver for the county’s school district, said he often volunteers with Sunrise Community when school is not in session.
“It’s kind of like a family,” Baldwin said, echoing the thoughts of many volunteers, staff and participants. “It gets better and better every year.”
Baldwin said he’d like to see more awareness drawn to the community.
“I’m all for kids with disabilities and all that, but those kids grow up,” he said. “And they get forgotten.”
It’s part of the reason why he volunteers — to be part of the change he’d like to see.
So while it might not have been Christmas quite yet, it was good enough for all the folks sitting on Santa’s lap.
Their smiles said it all.
Andrew Atkins is a Naples Daily News features reporter. Contact him via email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @andrewjatkins.
This story originally published to naplesnews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.