On Thursday afternoon the community gathered together to celebrate Sunshine Industries 50th anniversary. The nonprofit organization provides those with developmental disabilities the opportunity to live and work as independently as possible, and both state and local representatives were on hand to help celebrate the momentous occasion.

State Rep. Tammy Townley presented Sunshine with two special recognitions: one from her office and another from the office of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. Ardmore Mayor John Moore also presented two special recognitions: one to Sunshine Industries and another to Lorene Johnson, Sunshine’s longest tenured employee.

Johnson, director of programs and vice-administrator, has been with the organization for 40 years. She described what it was like working at Sunshine when she first began in the late 70s and how it has grown and changed over the years.

“Forty years ago, we were in an old school building on G Street Southeast,” Johnson said. “We had probably under 50 individuals with us at the time, but there was a very small staff.”

Johnson said one of the biggest changes she has seen with Sunshine comes from the way the organization received its funding.

“Back then we didn’t get a lot of assistance from the state or federal government,” Johnson said. “Most of our financial support came from private individuals. We’ve really been very fortunate because many of the citizens in this town have always supported Sunshine.”

She described her responsibilities when she first joined the team.

“When I first started they wanted me to teach classes in self-care, academics and job readiness. At the time I was able to work with the individuals one-on-one,” Johnson said. “It was a lot of fun, and I helped them with things like telling time, counting money, brushing teeth, matching up your clothes — things you and I would take for granted.”

Johnson said one of the best changes to Sunshine’s services has been the addition of the residential program and their adult day service.

“Those programs have all been added on over the last 40 years, but they have helped make our organization more complete,” Johnson said. “Now we can help people achieve employment, get a home, and then when they decide to retire they can come to our adult day services.”

Johnson said her love of helping people achieve their goals is what has kept her with Sunshine Industries since 1979.

“I like to see people with disabilities grow and become independent so they can move out into the community and contribute to society,” Johnson said. “I like helping them grow to their full potential. They are capable of a lot of wonderful things, and with motivation and the proper training they can accomplish so much.”