Atlanta Nonprofit Creates Residential Spaces for Children with Special Needs

Published: May 13, 2024

Sunshine on a Ranney Day began 12 years ago as the brainchild of Peter and Holly Ranney with the idea that a room makeover can change a child’s life. The nonprofit organization builds custom, tailored spaces for children with special needs through the support of partnerships and donors.

Professional Participation

According to Joe Lane, Sunshine on a Ranney day’s executive director, some of the designers who volunteer to create these spaces have been with the organization since its inception. They usually become interested in participating when they see news coverage or from feedback they get from other designers who have been involved.

“We are well known in the design world, and we only use professional designers and architects with established firms,” said Lane. “We act as the client, and they present drawings and plans for us to consider. If they are selected, they have the option to choose the project that speaks to them and works with their schedules.”

Best-Case Selection

Sunshine on a Ranney Day provides room makeovers for 20-24 children each year at no cost to the families. The children and projects are chosen by a selection committee that is affiliated with but not employed by the organization. The committee is made up of professionals from various industries who can review potential cases from a diverse viewpoint, as well as parents whose children have already received room makeovers. The parents can determine which children would benefit the most from a room makeover.

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Project Types & Goals

According to Lane, the main request he and his team receive is for an accessible bathroom with elements like curbless/roll-in showers and roll-under vanities. If a child needs full-time care, the project focus may shift more to what the parents need in a space.

“Storage can be critical; every spare closet may need to be filled with medical supplies and special food,” said Lane.

Therapy rooms are another request. Examples include a child on the spectrum who may need various pieces of equipment and one with sensory needs who could benefit from tactile panels and enclosed swings.

therapy spaces for children with special needs

This therapy space was designed by Artisan Design Studio, a Roswell-based design firm owned by Ryan Williams. Her goal was to include sensory elements, such as a bubble wall and sensory lighting, as well as more tactile equipment, such as therapy swings and a large castle-themed play space. Photo credit: Beruna Restoration.

“These rooms are designed to enhance a child’s in-home therapy and provide a safe place,” said Holly Ranney, the company’s co-founder and president.

Spaces for Children with Special Needs: Case Studies

If a child can vocalize his/her needs, the design team asks them for input. One child with muscular dystrophy is a huge “Lord of the Rings” fan, and he and his mother, who is a former designer, wanted the team to go all out incorporating elements from the movie. Niches in the shower entry emulate a castle, and dragons were the inspiration for the wall sconces.

mood board for accessible bathroom

Spaces Design Studio, led by Clareece Cunningham, makeover coordinator for Sunshine on a Ranney Day, created this mood board for a bathroom inspired by the “Lord of the Rings” movie.

“We want the family to be involved in the process as much as possible, and we want to avoid the child growing out the space too soon,” said Ranney.

In 2022, Sunshine on a Ranney Day provided an accessible bathroom for a child with spina bifida who has limited use of his lower extremities. His bedroom was in one area of the home’s basement, and he had to travel through many other spaces to get to his bathroom. The design team connected his bedroom and bath with an expanded doorway to accommodate his wheelchair. The new bathroom also features a curbless shower, grab bars and a roll-under vanity.

accessible bathroom for a child with spina bifida

Bathroom reveal for a child with spina bifida; Photo credit: Niki Murphy Photography

“He does not want or need parental help right now, so we wanted to give him a space he could handle on his own,” said Lane.

This bathroom project (shown above and below) was designed by Means and Carney Interiors and won local, regional and national Contractor of the Year awards for Universal Design-Bathroom through the National Association of Remodelers Industry.

bathroom spaces for children with special needs

Making It all Possible

The spaces for children with special needs are completed through partnerships with the trades, who donate their services and products. Cambria often supplies countertops, Mohawk donates flooring, MSI supplies tile for accessible bathrooms, and Schluter donates shower systems. Real Floors Commercial donates labor to install flooring, and Randall Brothers provides lumber and doors. Pulley & Associates provides Delta plumbing fixtures at cost, and Echols Glass and Mirror donates mirrors and other glass offerings.

On the donor side, various organizations and foundations provide funding for out-of-pocket costs Sunshine on a Ranney Day incurs. Many of these donors have been involved with the organization from the beginning, and a lot of them hear about from word of mouth.

“Once we complete a project, do a reveal, and our donors get to see how it will impact the families, they want to continue to be involved,” said Lane.

Three projects are already underway this year, and five have been completed. On May 9, 12 additional projects will be chosen for the second half of 2024.

In terms of future plans, Ranney says she’d like to do a makeover in all 50 states in the next 10 years.

“We have our hands full right now, but if we grow our staffing model, we can move beyond Atlanta,” she said. “There is no other organization like this in Georgia.”

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