Sunbeam News & Events

Founding Sunbeam Centre: Pieter and Johanna Vos’ Legacy

Pieter Vos was an agriculturist, missionary, and lay preacher who immigrated to Canada from Holland in 1950, after serving for four years in Surinam, a dutch colony in South America at the time.  While both he and Johanna Stoffels, a nurse, were living in Surinam and working at the Salvation Army, they met and then married.

Pieter and Johanna Vos

Upon their arrival in Canada, Pieter worked on a farm near Linwood, Ontario. As they settled into life in Canada they moved to Kitchener, Ontario, where Pieter and Johanna Vos bought a home. When they had just managed to pay off the house, Pieter read in a newspaper about a great need in the community – to help people living with disabilities.  They set out to make a difference, but didn’t know where to start other than the newspaper article.

That newspaper article led them to a Dutch couple who operated a small home for children living with disabilities outside of Bellville, Ontario.  The Vos’ arranged to meet this couple at their home and were immediately invigorated. In Pieter Vos’ own words, “I asked Johanna what she thought about it all. There was no need to ask; I could tell by her eyes that the children had won her heart as well!”

The homeowners asked Johanna to care for the children at the house, as she was a nurse, while they went home to Holland. Johanna went and took on the responsibility of care of the children for six weeks.

With this experience, Pieter and Johanna redecorated and prepped their home’s reconstructed garage for their own childrens’ home.  In 1956, Pieter and Johanna Vos were referred their first child with a developmental disability, “David”, through the Toronto Children’s Aid Society. Within a few months, they had renovated their own bedroom and were caring for 20 young children. After purchasing a larger house on Willow Street in Waterloo, they soon were caring for 40 children. As requests continued, a second building on the same property was purchased, and an additional 20 children were taken into their care.

Dutch immigrants were the vast majority of the staff at the time. Many parents sent their daughters to Canada after hearing a radio broadcast years before that Pieter Vos had put together to support Dutch families who were affected by a large flood.  Johanna was then tasked with being a mother to her own biological children, the children who lived in the house, and the young girls on staff. She became affectionately known as “Mama Vos”. On occasion a social worker would place a young girl on probation working at Sunbeam Home, rather than sending her to a reform school. Pieter said, “Johanna, like a mother, gave herself to the staff, who in turn, gave themselves, knowing they were loved.”

By 1964, Sunbeam Home included properties in Doon and Conestoga, as well as Waterloo, and provided care for 145 people. In 1966, it became a non profit corporation, run by a Board of Directors with Mr. Vos acting as Administrator. In order to amalgamate all the residences into one facility, the board of directors purchased the current premises at 2749 Kingsway Drive in Kitchener. In 1972, all residents and administration moved into the current facility.

Pieter Vos said of Sunbeam Home staff, “[i]t was very important to us to have those who had a loveable spirit and a cool head. For the children required, above all else, a lot of love, for that is what they thrived on.” It is with this attitude, that Sunbeam Centre continues its work today.  Pieter and Johanna Vos are considered pioneers in the field of developmental care, and we thank them for their legacy.

Posted in Sunbeam News

Our Community is the World: Operation Christmas Child

Sunbeam Centre’s Donation!

Sunbeam’s Day Program has been talking a lot about community and brainstorming ideas for how they can give back. This group consists of individuals studying academic subjects who also participate in a variety of other activities (including swimming, sports, crafts, and volunteering). Not only have they been talking about community – but they are exploring each level of community – within their own group, at the Sunbeam Centre, around Kitchener, and across the world.

When it comes to giving back on a global level, that can feel a little overwhelming, but these young individuals found a way! They got in touch with Operation Christmas Child – an established campaign through Samaritan’s Purse, an International Relief Organization. Operation Christmas Child is a practical way for Canadians to bring some holiday joy (in the form of toys, hygiene items, school supplies, and other gifts) to children in developing countries around the world.

They were responsible for making Sunbeam Centre’s shoebox drive a success! They asked members of their community, Sunbeam Centre staff, family, and friends to donate in whatever way they could. They made posters about the campaign, made donations themselves, filled and collected shoeboxes, and dropped off the completed shoeboxes at the local collection site. By the end of their campaign, Sunbeam’s Day Program had collected 30 shoeboxes!

Official numbers have not yet been released by Samaritan’s Purse, but at the time Sunbeam’s team went to drop off their donation – two days before the final collection deadline – the Kitchener area had already collected 1000 shoeboxes from individuals and other community groups. It was a special feeling – to know that Sunbeam Centre’s Day Program was acting as a part of their community – and contributing to giving on a much larger scale. Giselle Bauman, a staff member of Community Living, shared “[this campaign felt so successful] because of the support we got from everyone who filled boxes. People kept asking us how it was going, how many boxes we had, and were really excited to hear the results.”

We want to say a big thank you to everyone in the Day Program, especially to Group 4 (Lisa J., Mel B., Matthew M., Korey G., John, Alissa, Chris), for reminding us how important community is and how much impact we can have when we try to make a difference.  This was the first year Sunbeam Centre’s Day Program ran a shoebox drive for Operation Christmas Child, but it likely won’t be the last!

Do you have a favourite way to give back to a community you belong to? Share it with us on our Facebook page! The Day Program is always looking for ideas and inspiration!

Posted in Sunbeam News