The basics: The Sunshine Singers, an ecumenical singing group, was founded by Diane Haynes of Clovis in 2002. She wanted to "give back" to the community in her retirement after playing the piano and organ for pay at Valley churches for about 30 years.
With Haynes, 75, serving as accompanist on piano, The Sunshine Singers perform for free.
The group started with seven members. Besides Haynes, original members Louise Warkentin, Barbara Schafer and Martie Kurihara, all of Sanger, and Peggy Miles of Fresno, still sing. The group now has 17 members, many retired schoolteachers. Five are in their 80s.
Although the group uses First United Methodist Church of Sanger as a home base, its members represent various religious traditions.
What the group does: Members perform at Valley nursing homes on Thursday afternoons, singing a selection of songs -- mainly from the 1930s and '40s -- that are familiar to residents.
The group uses a songbook that changes monthly. Included are some religious songs. In February, The Sunshine Singers came out with a CD, "A Decade of Christmas." The singers end every visit with their signature song, "You Are My Sunshine."
Why the group does it: Members say they just want to raise the spirits of nursing-home residents, many in wheelchairs. Schafer said she feels good when she sees residents' faces light up as they sing along.
The turning point: Warkentin said a remarkable thing happened when members sang at Bethel Lutheran Home in Selma. A resident -- who had suffered a stroke and wasn't able to speak -- suddenly started to sing along with the group's songs.
"That's why we do it," Warkentin said.
Details, details: About 40 residents at the Golden Living Center in Sanger crowded into a dining room to hear the Sunshine Singers perform a Christmas program on Dec. 6.
Harriet Beebe served as the group's emcee, introducing each song with a heart-felt memory about her family and others.
A resident, Pam Winsley, who is from the East, smiled as the group sang, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and recalled living back East in a "real winter wonderland."
What others say: Junior Rosales, a recreation services assistant at the Golden Living Center, said residents look forward to The Sunshine Singers' visits: "It makes them feel good -- it fills their hearts with joy."
How you can help: Call Haynes at (559) 765-4333.
-- Ron Orozco