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Helping Make Miracles In The Desert: The IT Partners-Sunshine Acres Connection

IT Partners CEO Steve Tepedino is hoping his company’s technology donations and support for the Sunshine Acres group home for children in crisis will inspire more in the technology community to give back. ‘There is an opportunity here to leverage our industry more broadly to make a bigger impact at Sunshine Acres,’ he says.

Kevin Humphrey — the fourth generation of his family to run the Sunshine Acres group home for children in crisis — shudders to think of how the 70 children at the facility would have fared during the pandemic without the technology donations and support provided by IT Partners.

“All of the groundwork we laid over the last five years with IT Partners helped us during the pandemic,” said Humphrey, the executive director of the 109-acre facility in Mesa, Arizona known as the Miracle in the Desert for its work providing a home to more than 2,000 children over the last 67 years. “Without it we would have suffered. I can’t imagine where we would be if we had not made those (technology) changes.”

Those changes courtesy of Tempe, Arizona-based IT Partners -- one of the top solution providers in the country -- allowed the Sunshine Acres children - aged four to 17 years old - to be schooled from the seven group homes on the campus, maintaining connections with teachers, other children, staff – including counselors – and the 24 group home parents.

The technology lifeline provided by IT Partners included desktop computers, printers, iPads and a new state-of-the-art $30,000 to $50,000 wireless network that connected all of Sunshine Acres’ seven homes for children. “We utilized every piece of technology that we had here during the pandemic and we had the bandwidth to be able to do it,” said Humphrey, who takes great pride in the non-profit organization’s charter not to accept state or federal aid and to never solicit money or donations. “I expect that we managed better than most.”

Humphrey — a former 20-year IT executive and financial advisor who took on the Sunshine Acres calling a decade ago — calls IT Partners CEO Steve Tepedino’s decision to reach out six years ago to Sunshine Acres just one more example of God’s grace and the “miracles that happen every day” at the group home. “We laugh here and we chuckle and we share and we say a prayer and our littlest needs are met,” says Humphrey. “We always say that God knows what we need before we even know we need it, and it happens. It happened with Steve.”

Tepedino, who made his first trip to Sunshine Acres after learning about the group home from his hair stylist, also believes God and faith brought him to the Sunshine Acres front door. He says he always seems to show up when he is supposed to. It’s a calling that he believes is rooted in faith. “It is fantastically interesting to be an instrument to help these kids,” he said. “It’s magical how I show up when I am supposed to. It’s a calling that you only realize took place until after it happens.”

That “calling” has happened again and again, says Tepedino. It happened when he brought several iPads to Sunshine Acres and was met by a staff member who broke down, saying the much-needed devices came after an iPad was suddenly broken, leaving the home empty handed. It happened when he reached out to provide a wireless network and it happened recently when he inquired about IT needs and discovered the group home was evaluating accounting system software. “I laughed because we were doing the same exact thing at IT Partners, making the same decision re-platforming or reimagining how we do accounting,” he said. “We had just completed our evaluation and we shared that. It was amazing. This happens to me all the time with Sunshine Acres.”

The way Tepedino sees it is the IT Partners-Sunshine Acres partnership was meant to be. “You could say that the woman who cuts my hair introduced me to Sunshine Acres, but I can tell you that Sunshine Acres found me,” he says. “I don’t know how they found me, but they did because I happened to show up and I was supposed to.”

The Sunshine Acres relationship has become broader and deeper over the last several years with IT Partners providing a project manager that works with the group home on meeting its IT needs and charting out a long-term IT strategy for the facility. “The reason I have a project manager from IT Partners calling on Sunshine Acres is I don’t want this relationship to be ad-hoc,” said Tepedino. “I want us to think about what is next and what it can be. Maybe there are things that will come to mind we haven’t even thought of. Maybe we could help provide a path for kids who have a penchant for technology.”

Humphrey, for his part, is grateful for the technology load that has been lifted from his shoulders as a result of the IT Partners partnership. “It takes a load off of me knowing that I have IT professionals that know the technology that I can call at any time and they can give me an answer from an IT perspective,” he said. “Not having to worry about technology helps me tremendously.”

Grateful For Love

Glen Anderson was only four years old when he and his six-year-old brother were dropped off at Sunshine Acres in 1954. Anderson’s father had moved to Arizona for a job that fell through, leaving the trio homeless without money or food. Two years later, the father – who by this point had a job – arrived to take the children home. Anderson went on to become a Southwest pilot. Forever grateful for the love that Humphrey’s great grandmother provided for him and his brother, Anderson returned for the 60th anniversary of Sunshine Acres with his own family.

Humphrey tears up when he thinks of the legacy of love that his great grandmother provided the two boys and all of the children at Sunshine Acres. “Glen said the one thing that he remembered was my great grandmother loving and caring for him,” said Humphrey, choking up and having to pause to continue the conversation.” That’s the impact of Sunshine Acres.”

It was only after Humphrey’s sister – a one-time flight attendant- met the pilot on a flight that she learned of the connection. When the two realized they had a common bond they were both stunned. Anderson was not aware the group home was still active and was pleased to return to Sunshine Acres with his own family.

“He got to share with his family that it was a part of his life that meant so much to him,” said Humphrey. “He got to share story after story about the time he was here. It was wonderful. We actually have a picture of him on our wall.”

When Anderson retired from Southwest Airlines, he flew Humprey’s grandmother, mother and sister to Texas for his retirement. “That’s how impactful Sunshine Acres was for him,” said Humphrey.

The Strong Bond Between IT Partners and Sunshine Acres

The seeds of the IT Partners - Sunshine Acres relationship started six years ago when Tepedino showed up, met Humphrey and got a golf cart tour of the wide-open facility that provides everything from horseback riding to music lessons to fine arts and choir. When Tepedino saw a “Bob’s Free Bikes” on the property- with bikes fixed and maintained by a donor looking to provide the children with an opportunity to own a bike he knew that IT Partners could provide a similar experience for the children with technology. “It’s about using technology to create a better life experience for the kids,” said Tepedino.

As the relationship has grown, the bond between the IT Partners’ employees and the children and staff has grown deeper. What started with Tepedino and his two sons dropping off a donation at Christmas blossomed into a full-fledged Christmas party with the IT Partners employees acting as Santa’s helpers – obtaining the kids’ Christmas wish lists- buying and wrapping the gifts and then celebrating with the kids and their own families at a Sunshine Acres holiday party. IT Partners has gone on to play a role in other events at the campus including a children’s book author signing/pizza party.

“It has grown and now we as a company are integrated with what Sunshine Acres does,” said Tepedino. “We are trying to make things easier for Kevin and his team to deliver services to the kids. We want to help more and grow the network we have to help Sunshine Acres. We are all very busy with our jobs, but the job that Kevin and the Sunshine Acres’ family does is the most important thing anyone can do. We want to find a way to participate more.”

Roger Henry came to Sunshine Acres as a young boy that had suffered severe abuse. It was, in fact, one of the worst cases of abuse that Sunshine Acres had ever seen. With help from Sunshine Acres he went into the Navy and eventually came back to the group home when he was at a cross roads in his life, still trying to resolve the trauma from his childhood. Today, Henry is a network administrator at the group home. “Roger got his IT degree and has been here for 20 years,” says Humphrey. “The trauma Roger experienced took him into adulthood before he conquered it. Now he lives and works here.”

Tepedino says Henry was key in making the wireless networking decision and providing the technology support for the home to be successful. “One of the reasons we picked the network we did was because of Roger,” he said. “He’s a fantastic example of what a difference Sunshine makes to help the children in their care become successful adults.”

The Community Benefits of The Local Trusted Advisor VAR Model

With the deepening ties between Sunshine Acres and IT Partners, Tepedino sees an opportunity to make an even bigger impact by educating vendors on how the VAR (Value Added Reseller) model is driving charity to much needed social service organizations like Sunshine Acres.

“VARs are community sellers, we sell to our customers locally, we hire locally and a lot of VARs give back locally too.” said Tepedino. “My message to vendors is simple: when you do business with VARs as your route to market communities get stronger. The more business we do the better we can do for Kevin and his kids.”

Tepedino would also like more vendors to step up and work with IT Partners to provide more miracles in the desert. “There is an opportunity here to leverage our industry more broadly to make a bigger impact at Sunshine Acres,” he said.

Tepedino, in fact, hopes the Sunshine Acres IT Partners story will provide the “inspiration” for others to step up and give, creating a pay it forward chain in the IT partner and vendor ecosystem. He wants others to experience the calling and the joy that comes from working with Sunshine Acres.

“When you first visit Sunshine Acres and see the campus it takes your breath away,” Tepedino said. “It’s incredible when you see the horses, the 4H program and all of the things it does for kids. It makes a kid feel like it’s okay to be a kid. Our goal was to help bring kids the same feeling with technology. We don’t want them to feel different. That is where the magic and the miracles happen. What we want to do now is take it to the next level to see what else we can do to help the kids at Sunshine Acres.”

One of the benefits of Sunshine Acres model is the children are not forced out on their own at their 18th birthday. Under the Sunshine Acres transitional living program, the students can move into a program to obtain a university bachelor’s degree, attend community college or a vocational school or enter into the military. That transitional program includes coaches and assistance.

Changing Lives

Humphrey says the miracles in the desert happen when troubled kids become successful adults. “What we do is plant a seed for these kids, letting them know that there is something different than the life they are living,” he says. “We have kids comes back to us years later and tell us – ‘That time at Sunshine Acres changed my life.”

When Max and Rhane came to Sunshine Acres they were seven and nine years old respectively. They moved into the transitional living program, and now are thriving. Rhane graduated from Grand Canyon University in 2020 and is now a nurse. Max obtained his associate’s degree and is now an assistant manager at a local Walmart. “They lived with us all the way through college and finding a job,” said Humphrey. “They came here at such a young age and broke the cycle.”

That success story is a direct line to the mission of the group home founded in 1954 by Humphrey’s great grandparents - the Reverend Jim and Vera Dingman, namely, to provide a “loving Christian home for children with stable parental figures to prepare them for success in adult life. That meant committing to helping the children beyond 18 into college or a career. “They hated the fact that children in the foster care system would be kicked out with a backpack and a few dollars and sent away,” said Humphrey. “They committed to never turning away a child for financial reasons or turning them away when they were 18. They committed to helping them transition to adulthood with university, community college, vocational school or military.”

Today, Humphrey himself is carrying on that tradition of helping children in crises become successful adults. In fact, the plan is for Sunshine Acres to start its newest home this year for another 10 children along with a new dining hall.

Tepedino, for his part, is committed to getting more people to step up to help Sunshine Acres. “They won’t ask for help, not a penny, a board or a brick,” he says. “My responsibility is to get more people to show up for them. They won’t call with a need. It’s not what they do. So, it’s up to us to let more people know about what Kevin and his family are doing.”

No matter what lies ahead, says Tepedino, he is confident the calling that brought IT Partners and Sunshine Acres together is only beginning. “We’re just getting started,” he said. “This does not have an end. We want to go beyond technology as the foundation of how things work to how to reinvent this so technology can become a bigger part of the kids’ lives. So, the question becomes: how do we imagine what is next? If we think about that more then we’ll do more, and nothing would make me happier than that.”

Photo at top: Left to right Sunshine Acres Executive Director Kevin Humphrey, IT Partners CEO Steve Tepedino and daughter Christina at the holiday party.

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