10 Years of Celebrating Sunflower Hill

Our History

On a brisk Saturday morning in 2012, Susan Houghton asked a group of parents of children with developmental disabilities to gather at a Starbucks in Pleasanton to discuss a bold new idea: the creation of a permanent residential community for disabled adults – one where their own adult children might be able to live long after they were gone. They envisioned a community – a place where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) could experience independence and empowerment in a safe environment. It was an ambitious idea, but one the parents were willing to embrace.

This determination and passion seeded the formation of Sunflower Hill, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating residential living, programs, and activities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

The name, Sunflower Hill, was specifically chosen for its symbolism, as sunflowers are symbols of longevity and vibrancy; it represented a greater vision for the organization: Sunflower Hill – a place where individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities could thrive.

Meet some of the families who inspired the creation of Sunflower Hill via their stories. And join us down memory lane via Sunflower Hill’s very first video.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

In February 2013, Sunflower Hill officially incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Now, ten years later, we’re proud to work alongside a myriad of great community partners dedicated to serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our new anniversary timeline highlights fun facts and special memories over the last ten years and if the past is prologue, we know the next decade holds great promise for even more accomplishments and impact.    

We invite you to join us in our celebration. Throughout 2023 we’re honoring the 10 year anniversary of Sunflower Hill – with stories from our participants and families, milestone memories, special events, and commemorative items. Stay up to date with all the latest happenings via our newsletter and social media.

And, we want to hear from you!  Share what Sunflower Hill has meant to you, and/or your favorite memory. What are your dreams for Sunflower Hill’s next 10 years? Share your thoughts, pictures, and videos with us, and join the Faces of Sunflower Hill campaign.

10 Years of Growing Sunflower Hill


Sunflower Hill officially incorporates as a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

The Berry boys in Pleasanton hold a  neighborhood Haunted House fundraiser – raising $500 to support Sunflower Hill.

The organization launches a series of ‘family fun days’ and begins to sell greeting cards, sunflower seeds, and sunflower plants. Olive oil and windchimes soon follow as microbusinesses. Our anniversary edition olive oil is now for sale! Click here to purchase!  


SFH Board members Lynn Monica and Chris Bogert attend the prestigious Alice Waters Edible School Program – setting the stage for, and then co-founding, the Sunflower Hill Garden and programs at Hagemann Ranch.  

Well-respected business and community leaders join the vision via SFH’s newly created Advisory Board. SFH Founder Susan Houghton named a Tri-Valley Hero by the Pleasanton Weekly.  

SFH launches a series of educational programs for parents – including special needs financial planning. First ‘Art in the Vines’ event


Official ribbon cutting for SFH Garden at Hagemann Ranch. Dedicated family workdays result in a bountiful first harvest!  

Local high school transition classes and adult community day programs begin to visit the garden to work and engage on a regular basis. Sunflower Hill becomes a Pleasanton City Council priority and gains visibility in the TriValley.

Congressman Eric Swalwell spends ‘a day in the life’ working at SFH Garden.


Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty surprises Sunflower Hill with a $500K donation at the Moonlight in the Vines gala event.

Patrick Kirbach and Blake Muller, Sunflower Hill program participants, join California Senator Steve Glazer as ‘Senator for a Day” in Sacramento.

The Sunflower Hill Garden produces more than 9500 pounds and 45 varieties of produce with more than 70 percent donated to local food pantries.

SFH’s first official employee, Anis Shaw joins the team.


California Assemblymember Catherine Baker names Sunflower Hill ‘Nonprofit of the Year’ for the 16th Assembly District.

Pleasanton City Council votes unanimously on the final approval of Sunflower Hill at Irby Ranch, a 31-unit affordable residential community, in partnership with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates and Mike Serpa of Concentric Development.

SFH launches the Rainmaker Awards – honoring community leaders who have made a difference for the organization. Pleasanton City Council member Kathy Narum, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, and the City of Livermore/John Marchand are named as the first recipients.

SFH program participants work at Stable Café at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, thanks to an innovative culinary vocational partnership created by SFH Board member Dave Muller. It was the hotspot for breakfast! 


The SFH Garden partners with the Adaptive Horticulture program at Las Positas College and launches its own official garden internship program. Aubrey (Libby) Mumper is Sunflower Hill’s first intern.   

The City of Pleasanton/Nelson Fiahlo receives SFH’s second Rainmaker Award.

Edie Nehls joins the organization in 2018 as the organization’s first Executive Director.

The SFH Garden becomes a favored location for local high schools, corporations, and service organizations interested in team building volunteer opportunities for their employees and members.  


Official groundbreaking on a rainy day in May – Sunflower Hill launched its first residential community at Irby Ranch in Pleasanton, marking the first affordable housing  community for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Tri-Valley region.  Affordable housing for 31 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is on the way! 

Sunflower Hill starts discussions throughout the Tri-Valley and East Bay region to increase awareness about the need for affordable housing for adults with disabilities in hopes of creating more residential communities in the future.

First ‘Sunflower Hill Fun Run’  held in downtown Pleasanton. Moonlight in the Vines – Christmas in July was a great success raising more than $150,000! SFH Founder Susan Houghton receives Rainmaker Award.

Sunflower Hill adopts new logo. 

Sunflower Hill receives the ‘Excellence in Service’ award from the Pleasanton Chamber. 


Sunflower Hill launches Popcorn Chat, virtual cooking classes, innovative online programming, yoga classes and participant videos. A special video on masks – how to wear one and why – is also created. The videos and online programs help SFH residents, program participants, and the greater I/DD community cope with the COVID pandemic.

First residents move into SFH at Irby Ranch in Pleasanton. Sunflower Hill partners with the Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB) to provide residential services at Irby Ranch.

SFH Board President Kathy Layman receives Diablo Magazine’s Threads of Hope Award.


Sunflower Hill’s second residential community, Lafayette Lane,  receives unanimous approval from the Lafayette City Council, thanks to the leadership of former SFH Board member and Irby Ranch parent Rosemary Kirbach. Sunflower Hill partners with Iman Novin of Novin Development and Caleb Roope from Pacific West Companies on the project.

Proposed affordable housing project with set aside for 22 I/DD units  at Croak Ranch in Dublin, working with Eden Housing and Trumark.   

Sunflower Hill Showcase debuts as the first post-pandemic gala/fundraiser, featuring Kodi Lee, to represent our community and ensure inclusion. 

Sunflower Hill Garden offers regular video updates on how the garden is growing!

The Board and staff created a Strategic Plan to refine the organizational mission, vision, and values.


Jen Lenard-Benson hired as new Executive Director.  

In person programming for residents returns at Irby Ranch and the Garden along with another Sun’s Out, Fun’s Out Run at the Alameda County Fair.

The Sunflower Soiree annual gala features artwork by residents and program participants, as well as stories by a parent and resident, and raises $187,000 for adults with I/DD.  

Sunflower Hill selected as an East Bay Times ‘Share the Spirit’ honoree.


Sunflower Hill celebrates 10 years!

As of 2023, more than 50,000 pounds of produce at the Sunflower Hill Garden has been harvested and donated to community organizations such as Shepherd’s Gate, Tri-Valley Haven, Open Heart Kitchen, and Culinary Angels. Flowers grown at Sunflower Hill are also donated to Hope Hospice.  
Programming and activities at Irby Ranch are now open to the community.

$270,000 raised at Moonlight at the Museum 10th Anniversary Gala held at Blackhawk Museum in Danville on Saturday, September 30.

Kathy Layman named 2023 Rainmaker Award winner, and Vlad Gorokhov named the first Sunflower Spirit Award winner.

A new community, Sunflower Hill at Grace Pointe, to be located in Dublin with 60 units of affordable housing, is announced.