Extraordinary Things Come From Humble Beginnings

Established in 1954, The Haven began as a vision for an organization that would serve children with special needs throughout their lifetime. Our founders, a group of forward thinking parents, were desperate for services that would empower the potential of their children rather than placing limitations on their personal growth. Seeing that there were no services to support their children to grow as individuals, they decided to build an organization that would provide opportunities through every stage of life.

The Haven, then known as Sunshine Day School, began with four enrolled students in an airplane hangar at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. With hard work and plenty of determination, our founders privately fund-raised and sold over 20,000 pounds of Claxton fruitcakes at local bake sales to purchase the 32-acre enclave the community now calls home.

When Dreams Became Reality

What once was a small agency located in the middle of nowhere is now a community in the heart of one of the largest, most affluent markets in South Florida. The Haven has come a long way since those early years but one thing remains unchanged and that is the founders’ vision for a community that empowers those with disabilities to pursue their academic and employment goals and aspirations.

The original four students paved the way for The Haven to serve thousands more over the last six decades; and the organization is not slowing down. The Haven is in the middle of an expansive ten year plan to address the growing demands for service in our community. Plans include an age-in-place senior center, six additional single family homes, and a therapeutic aquatic center. The Haven holds on to the belief that your circumstance does not determine your ability; that being disabled doesn’t mean you are unable, and that everyone has a purpose.

About The Haven

The Haven exists to enhance quality of life by encouraging independence, championing inclusion and advocating for individual rights. Regardless of ability, all individuals deserve the basic human right to have choices for a fulfilling and a productive life filled with purpose and social acceptance. As Sarasota’s leading organization in human serves for adults and children with disabilities, The Haven offers programs and services for individuals with disabilities including the Selby Preschool, Haven Academy (grades 9-12), Life Skills Training, and Haven Industries, Community Employment and Residential Services.


(1954-1957) In The Beginning

Manatee County

  • • Efforts to establish a school for developmentally disabled children in Manatee and Sarasota Counties were instituted.
  • • The Manatee School Board approved the moving of a 20x36 building from Manatee Elementary School to its new location on General Tinker Avenue at the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport.
  • • The local unit of the National Association for Retarded Children was started and officers were elected.
  • • A teacher, Hilda Myers, was hired for the new school, with 8 students.
  • • The Sarasota-Manatee Training School was quickly re-named Sunshine Corner Day School.

(1958-1963) Early Expansion

At the Airport

  • • Ground breaking ceremonies are held for Children’s Haven, a recreation home for 20-25 developmentally disabled children, adjacent to Sunshine Corner.
  • • Bradenton Civitans announce Claxton fruitcake sales to benefit the developmentally disabled.
  • • Dr. Paul Beaven is appointed Executive Director of Children’s Haven, located at 1025 General Tinker Avenue.
  • • The Rotary Club of Sarasota leased a building across the street from Children’s Haven to house a new workshop.
  • • The Paul W. Beaven Sheltered Workshop and Training Center is dedicated with over 200 visitors in attendance.

(1964-1969) Getting Ready To Move

Sarasota County

  • • Civatans announce they have 20,000 lbs of Claxton fruit- cakes to sell to aid Children’s Haven.
  • • Children’s Haven announces the purchase of a 20-acre tract of land to house new facilities.
  • • Buckingham Club presents Children’s Haven with a bus purchased with their annual bazaar proceeds.
  • • Children’s Haven Buckaroos make their singing debut.
  • • Construction on Selby Day School is complete and dedicated with approximately 200 persons in attendance.
  • • Construction has started on Eagle House, a group home being built by members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles 2758.

(1970-1977) Out In The Country

A Place of Our Own

  • • The Service Club of Bradenton presented Children’s Haven with a 14-passenger van and announce that proceeds from the Gala Night Preview would go toward projects at the Center, including a new workshop.
  • • The Laura B. Freitag Shelter of Occupational Training is dedicated and the South Sarasota Kiwanis dedicate the Phil Spear Agricultural building, which they constructed with monies from their 1971 Christmas tree sales.
  • • The ARC resale shop was opened on Siesta Drive, with all proceeds going to The Haven.
  • • Children’s Haven announces plans for a $350,000 cafetorium with a 500-person capacity.

(1983-1986) Civic Clubs Rally To Aid

Children’s Haven

  • • South Sarasota Kiwanis dedicate the third building they have built at Children’s Haven in the past 10 years.
  • • Sarasota Fraternal Order of Eagles complete a dormitory for 8 boys.
  • • Tropicana employees present Children’s Haven with an award of $5,000 they received for community responsibility.
  • • Manatee-Sarasota ARC presents new bus to Children’s Haven.
  • • There are now 48 adults living on campus, 117 in the Workshop and 20 children in the Day School. Three resale shops are being operated.
  • • Gary Heichel, Ph.D. appointed as the new Executive Director.

(1986-1991) Expanding Horizons

Under New Management

  • • The First Annual Family Fun Day is held on campus—no admission, no parking fees, and no fund raising.
  • • Children’s Haven and Adult Center celebrated 30 years in 1986 with an Open House.
  • • The Living Skills Center is opened for clients learning pre-independent living skills.
  • • The AKtion Club is founded at Children’s Haven.
  • • The residential program is now at 60 beds, over 1600 friends and families are on our mailing list, 150 in the Workshop, and 30 children in the Day School.
  • • The Sixth Annual Family Fun Day is held and Gary Heichel celebrates his last day as Executive Director.

(1991-2000) Coming Soon


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(2000-2010) Coming Soon


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(2010-2020) Coming Soon


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