This is a true letter written to CEO and Sunshine Acres founder’s daughter, Carol Whitworth, from Neal, a former child. Neal’s story has a rocky start (not unlike many other children who come to the Acres) beginning with an adoption that tragically fell through, and behavior difficulties which eventually lead to him attending a disciplinary school. After some time, Neal found himself at Sunshine Acres Children’s Home. As you’ll read, with the help of a positive environment and dedicated mentors, things finally started to turn around. With the assistance of his houseparents, Neal got a job at Waffle House, he started out washing dishes and quickly became their best and most personable waiter. He graduated high school a semester early, finished college, and went on to join the Navy. His story is one of many stories at Sunshine Acres to show that sometimes all a child needs is an understanding heart, a loving hand to guide them, maybe a little push, and they can achieve anything.
“Dear Aunt Carol,
I recently spent time with Rob and Barb who came all the way to San Deigo to attend my college graduation. I graduated Cum Laude with my Bachelors of Business Administration with a specialty in Alternative Dispute Resolution. I feel like I owe you all a debt I could never repay. You all have been great role models to me and have shown me unconditional love and care. I know that I would not be successful without the enormous contributions of love that you and those at Sunshine Acres have given me. You gave me a family when nobody wanted me. You got me a job I never would have gotten otherwise. You gave me a ton of examples for becoming a responsible and kind man that I had never been exposed to before. You paid for my college and taught me the value of an education. Rob and Barb helped me enlist in the Navy. I did not know it at the time but this would end up be the single best decision I have ever made. I want to use these opportunities that I have been given to apply for a commission as an officer.
One thing that I have learned at Sunshine Acres is that real strength is kind and humble. John and Judy were key in my ability to manage my anger as an adult. John was almost always the biggest and strongest man in the room but you would never know it from his calm and patient demeanor. He showed me kindness. This helped me a great deal in swallowing my pride and letting go of my anger. I would not be where I am without them. Judy loved all the kids as her own, sometimes even more than John Jr…just kidding! I remember all of my house parents, I remember watching the show Jericho with Pat and Harold after school. I remember Greg and Amy always taking us on walks and talking about life and school. We also used to watch a show called Hell’s Kitchen. I am especially find of my memories learning how to drive with Rob. I had no clue what I was doing but still acted confident. These are the things I treasure most in life. I will carry these memories with me for the rest of my life.
These memories are some of the few positive experiences that I had as a kid bouncing around without parents bouncing around through orphanages, shelters, group homes & foster families. You have given me these memories and more. There are many other experiences that I have had that made me who I am. I want to list them all but this letter would turn into a book. Here are a few. Ben and O’Ryan took us golfing with Ed and Bethany. I remember a lot of the kids developing a love for the sport. We were addicted to golfing for a while. I remember playing foosball with John and Sylvia in the backyard. John taught me that you can’t let go of the handles when you spin in an official play. Needless to say, he wad really good and always won. I loved going to concerts with Ted and Maria. Anyway, thank you for entertaining all of my fond memories.
I miss you all more than you know. I am afraid if I go back that I would start crying. You all are such amazing people and I feel as though I did nothing to deserve everything I have been given. I promise that I will always continue to remember you all and carry the lessons I have learned close to my heart. Don’t think I would end this letter without thanking all the people that made this possible. Jack and Carol, I remember our breakfast before I left for college. I remember that you both believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. I needed that. I have felt your influence in my life and I will share the love you have given me with others, including my future wife and children. I love you all.
P.S. Thanks to the Navy I have traveled to 11 different countries. I have made friends that I can count on and I have learned a lot about life and what it takes to lead.