Mary-Lou Dunn of The Sunshine School (Nonprofit Category Finalist)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 12:00 am  

Mary-Lou DunnThe Sunshine SchoolSearcy

Volunteering changed the course of Mary-Lou Dunn’s life.

The Searcy native had planned to become a college professor.

However, her older sister, a member of the Searcy Junior Auxiliary, suggested that Dunn volunteer during her final year of high school with the auxiliary’s mom’s day out program for children with disabilities. “I remember walking up the sidewalk and thinking, ‘What did she get me into this time?’” Dunn said.

By the end of that school year, Dunn had decided to pursue a college degree in special education.

The work provided “the opportunity to really, really make a change in somebody else’s life. Besides that, they were just neat people and fun to be around,” Dunn said.

She developed a relationship with the Junior Auxiliary’s program that she has maintained for more than four decades.

Dunn, 64, taught special ed for seven years in Searcy’s public schools and served on the Sunshine School’s board throughout those years before she committed to the Sunshine School of Searcy full time. “The Sunshine School is a place that takes a hold of you and won’t turn you loose,” she said.

Dunn has now served as executive director of the nonprofit school for 34 years.

When Dunn started volunteering, the school was a part-time program with about 12 kids participating. But it has steadily grown into a state-certified school that provides nearly seven hours of five-day-per-week instruction during the school year for children and adults of all ages who have developmental disabilities.

The school teaches a wide range of skills, from feeding oneself and socialization to job training. The school also offers physical, speech and occupational therapies.

Dunn now oversees a full-time staff of 25 that serves 70 students.

Dunn’s duties include hiring, firing, ensuring that payroll is done correctly, setting a board-approved budget and managing the paperwork associated with using state and federal funding.



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