May 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 1 
Cover Story

Miracle in the desert

Sunshine Acres offers a nurturing home for high-risk children in Arizona, thanks in part to the support of ECF

Miracle in the desertMore than 50 years ago, Rev. Jim and Vera Dingman said they received a calling: to do everything in their power to love and care for children who are unable to be loved and cared for by their own parents.

In 1954, with the help of a group called The Mesa Optimist Club, Jim and Vera purchased 125 acres just outside Mesa, Ariz. They named it Sunshine Acres, and before long they had 10 children living with them.

These are high-risk children who come from homes where their parents are in prison, addicted to drugs or homeless, or from failed adoptions. Today, nearly 70 children are in residence. Since it was founded, Sunshine Acres has provided emotional, physical and educational support to more than 1,500 children.

Carol Whitworth, executive director of Sunshine Acres and the Dingmans' daughter, said the facility has grown slowly "because quality care is very important to us. We never want to lose sight of that. Our ultimate goal is to teach the children responsibility, life skills, and how to get along with others."

What's truly remarkable is Sunshine Acres does all this with no local, state or federal government financial support. Their annual budget is based on donations, including those from The Employees Community Fund of Boeing–Mesa. All contributions and services rendered come by word of mouth. Since 1991, The Employees Community Fund of Boeing–Mesa has granted more than $100,000 to Sunshine Acres. This figure is in excess of the monies contributed by employees through ECF's designated-giving feature.

Located a couple blocks from the Boeing facility in Mesa, Sunshine Acres attracts many Boeing employees who volunteer their time and money to ensure Jim and Vera Dingman's dream continues.

Sunshine Acres resident tending a garden.Sunshine Acres came to the attention of Boeing Mesa employee Bruce Culver five years ago when a site leader was recruiting volunteers for Community Service Day, and he's been a staunch supporter ever since. At this year's Community Service Day event on April 9, he helped facilitate setting up an irrigation system for their plants, fingerprinting and photographing each child for their personal files with Sunshine Acres, and a scrapbook activity.

"A lot of the kids that come to Sunshine Acres don't have pictures of themselves; they don't have a very memorable past," Culver said. "So we came over with digital cameras and took pictures of the kids doing some of their favorite activities and helped them preserve some memories. Someday they'll be able to take these scrapbooks home with them and will remember years down the road what fun they had and what an impact Sunshine Acres has had on their lives."

Carol Dingman acknowledged the critical role volunteers and donations from companies such as Boeing play at the children's home.

"You help many generations when you help a child," she said. "We are very thankful that Boeing employees care so much about less-fortunate children and that they have chosen to 'adopt' us. We are so glad to have Boeing as our neighbor."

—Debby Arkell

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