Lawsuit leads to name change
Sued by another nonprofit, the Sunshine Kids Club becomes the Sunshine Connection
For 16 years, Faelin Klein has headed the Sunshine Kids Club, a nonprofit that offers programs for children with and without disabilities. In her Manzanita Avenue office, poster-sized photos of kids playing wheelchair basketball and other games portray a place where kids can be kids, despite their differences. These days, however, the sound of laughter is more a memory than a reality.
State budget cuts have slashed funding to the organization, as they have to many nonprofits. What really hurt Klein, though, was a lawsuit filed six months ago by Sunshine Kids Foundation, an organization for kids with cancer based in Texas, over trademark infringement.
“I seriously thought it was a joke,” Klein said during a recent interview. She couldn’t fathom why a nonprofit organization would go out of its way to hurt another of its kind.
While Sunshine Kids Foundation had trademarked its name 20 years ago, Klein said she registered with the state of California but didn’t register a trademark federally. She had no idea anything like this could happen to her local, grassroots nonprofit.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, however, indicates a trend in large nonprofits like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and LiveStrong attacking the little guys for using similar slogans or even similar colors. The Sunshine Kids Club is mentioned in the article, which appeared Aug. 5.
Starting Nov. 1, Chico’s Sunshine Kids Club will be known as the Sunshine Connection. Klein is OK with the change but frustrated the legal paperwork and process stole the last six months from her and the kids her organization serves. Programs usually start up in the fall, but they haven’t had the money to fund them this year.
“It’s zapped all of our resources,” Klein said. “This is not about my dream—it’s about the kids in this community. We’re the only program in town that focuses on them.”
Sunshine Connection is dedicated to raising awareness of disabilities, to embracing all kids as equals. For wheelchair basketball, for example, which has been offered through a partnership with Chico State, everyone involved gets in a chair, even those who can walk. By leveling the playing field, Johnny is no longer just the kid in the wheelchair—he becomes Johnny, a really great free-throw shooter.
“It gives kids a sense of empowerment, because they’re not just accepted—they’re embraced,” said Klein, who started the group as a place for kids like her daughter to thrive.
Klein’s daughter, Briana Beaver, remembers being an outcast as a child. Kids in school wouldn’t use the same crayons she had used, for fear of catching her “cooties,” and the teachers did little to help.
“I just felt really depressed as a little kid,” the 23-year-old recalled during a recent interview. “The kids thought they were going to catch this horrible disease I had.”
Beaver didn’t have a disease—she had cerebral palsy, and that made her different. She couldn’t run as fast as her classmates, and she couldn’t speak as clearly. Her spirits were so low, she remembers, that “I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get from 6 to 20. Nobody understood what it was like to be me.”
When Klein found some families with kids in similar situations, they started making play dates. Soon the group of five to 10 kids grew, and out of it sprouted the Sunshine Kids Club—a name, Klein said, that the children came up with on their own.
“I had a sense of camaraderie for the first time in my life,” Beaver said. “It literally has saved my life. It gave me a sense of self-worth and self-purpose. It’s my heart and soul.”
Several years ago, Klein said there were about 300 kids who participated in programs regularly. One of those kids was Erik Andrade. His father, Hector, said the club has been invaluable for his son, who has Down syndrome.
“Erik has a lot of energy,” Hector said by phone. “If he doesn’t burn all that energy he’ll get chunky. At the club, he’s always doing activities like sports—it’s awesome. And it’s good for his health.”
With funding for the club at an all-time low, programs for the fall have been put on hold. Klein and Beaver said they’re determined to get back on their feet, even if they have to move out of their offices and work out of their home. For the time being, programs are being held monthly.