The Sunrise Story


From a Single Act of Kindness

As you’re seeing from your tour of our website, Sunrise today is one of the largest, private not-for-profit organizations in the country dedicated to serving the needs of people with intellectual and physical challenges. Our success of 45 years has been built on the vision and courage of our leadership, the talent and dedication of our extraordinary staff; and the unfailing generous support of our benefactors, donors and volunteers. But it all grew from a single act of kindness. In 1962, David Rice, a successful Miami executive, read a news report about a child with disabilities who was dumped at the Miami airport. He wanted to help, but the existing options were bleak. Prior to 1965, the prevailing philosophy regarding care for people with disabilities was institutionalization in very large, state-run facilities. Right about that time, the “Willowbrook scandal” broke. Nationally broadcast, shocking scenes of neglect and abuse of people with disabilities caused a reexamination and subsequent rejection of institutionalization. David Rice decided to find a better way. He and his friend, George Spelios, got together with concerned parents, caring neighbors, generous business associates and a small core of innovative professionals, and assumed operational control of the Exceptional Children’s Home on the site of what is now our outstanding 120-person facility in Miami, Florida.

Our Values


Sunrise is committed to ensuring that individualized supports and services are designed and provided to build on people's strengths, interests and needs.


As a recognized leader in its field of endeavors, Sunrise also assists people with disabilities in becoming full participants in community life by means of advocacy and community education directed toward communities of acceptance.


Sunrise provides the highest quality of assistance in the most cost-effective manner to people with disabilities.

Our Mission

Our Vision

Sunrise recognizes that all people want and have a right to a full and productive life, which includes a home, family, work, and participation in community groups and activities.

Sunrise further recognizes that all people desire experiences that are nurturing, fulfilling and dignified, and that they also have the capacity for growth and development through which these recognized wants and desires can be realized.

Our Mission

Our Mission

To provide people with disabilities the assistance and support necessary to enable them to live valued lives in the community.


The Concepts that Built our Capabilities

As our Sunrise Story tells, we grew out of a single act of kindness. A natural reflex of the human heart to give safe haven to a child in need. A few million acts of kindness later, that reflex is now part of our collective DNA. But while our beginning was by chance, our growth and direction soon became a strategically planned and purposeful course — a course rooted in our Values, clarified by our Vision, and reinforced by our Mission Statement. Our focus is on the single challenged individual and the people who love and care for them. To gain a better understanding of Sunrise, we’d like to share with you the concepts that guide our work and chart our course.

Pioneering Special Needs

Pioneering Special Needs Services

Looking back, we have made dramatic progress over the years. In retrospect, our growth is solely a byproduct of our original and continuing focus on helping each challenged individual we serve to live the valued life we would all want for our loved ones. At the core, this means providing safe, comfortable, family-style caring homes, anchored in the community.

The ’70s were a time of learning for Sunrise. We developed skills, perfected systems, improved quality control, attracted talent and pioneered a range of special needs services.

No Place Like a Real Home

No Place Like a Real Home

By the ’80s, we were well positioned to help the state of Florida implement plans for deinstitutionalizing their large, impersonal facilities. We opened seven ‘cluster homes’ in St. Petersburg, Panama City, Tallahassee, Bartow and Cape Coral. Each cluster consisted of three, eight-person residences located on the same property. The move was a major test of our growing capabilities because we were called on to serve individuals who had a range of acute physical challenges, often with difficult behavioral problems as well as secondary disabilities. The clusters marked a significant improvement for the people with greater needs by scaling down their care setting for more individual attention and creating greater opportunities to form closer personal relationships. In our professional jargon they are called "Intermediate Care Facilities for the Developmentally Disabled" – ICF/DD for short. But for our folks, they are the homes in which they live, and we work very hard every day to keep it that way.

Les Leech

The Les Leech 'Profiles in Caring' Award

For 40 years, the legacy of Les Leech’s leadership and entrepreneurial spirit that characterized the exceptional culture and the active response of Sunrise Community in addressing the critical needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. From an initial service to 50 children in 1965 to over 2800 individuals currently served across seven states, Les Leech modeled the way for Sunrise Community to effectively demonstrate that delicate balance of fiscal integrity, quality services, and exceptional personal outcomes for those served. Throughout his career at Sunrise Les was an ardent advocate for people with disabilities and often was the catalyst for meaningful social change that resulted in accrued benefits to the most vulnerable among us. It is Sunrise’s commitment to caring and excellence that "provides people with disabilities the assistance and support necessary to enable them to live valued lives in the community."

Sunrise is generously supported by