Lucy Hicks started volunteering with the Sunshine Industries Christmas party eight years ago, when she was feeling the stress of the holiday season.

“In 2011, I found myself feeling poorly about the upcoming holidays and decided that I needed to shake my bah-humbug spirit by helping others,” she said. She left the party that day with the Christmas spirit reignited, and the seeds for Project: Christmas Sunshine were planted.

“The lasting effect should reach people that you will never physically encounter in your lifetime,” Hicks said. “I believe this project does that.”

Sunshine Industries is a nonprofit organization that helps people with developmental disabilities find opportunities to live and work independently. Their annual party was full of Christmas spirit again this year as students from Take Two Academy and Springer High School student council filled the dining area with Christmas carols on Friday. A special appearance by Santa Claus got the crowd excited as he took individual pictures with party guests.

Mekhi Warner is a student at Take Two Academy and the president of their Rotary Club chapter. He enjoyed singing at the Sunshine Industries Christmas party even though it brought up painful memories of his late grandmother. “My grandmother passed away and I wasn’t there for it, and it hurts to be here but I’m glad that I’m here,” he said.

Take Two Academy director Lori Bell says it is important for her students to give back to the community during the holidays. “A lot of times kids are the ones who are receiving the gifts and attention, and it’s nice to give back,” she said.

Hicks said the party at Sunshine Industries has become a family affair over the past eight years with her parents helping make sure Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive. Even though carolers were decked out in ugly Christmas sweaters and the walls were decorated with decorations from floor to ceiling, the excitement of men and women at Sunshine Industries is what filled the room with Christmas cheer.

> “I did not think it could get any better, but each year it does,” she said. “Each year there is more joy. There is more happiness. There is more laughter.”