Monday, May 09, 2011

Down home on the ranch

Since my boys are now all adults with developmental or mental health disabilities, I am of course concerned about where they will wind up when I'm gone.  I've done quite a bit of research online, looking for high quality, innovative programs for adults.  Tevis was in a group home for many years, because of his need for constant supervision and because of his explosive behavior, so I've seen the "average" group home, and I was not impressed.  The first group home was an ICFMR facility with 6 residents; the second was a Medicaid waiver home with 3-4 residents.  The second was of better quality, with better administration, but both were plagued above all by the quality of direct care staff.  Given the low pay and the sometimes stressful work, turnover was a constant problem and the administrators obviously had to take what they could get.

I have long admired the L'Arche movement, a worldwide movement founded by Jean Vanier in France in 1964. He had a vision of homes where people with and without disabilities lived together in an intentional community, sharing their faith and their daily lives.  Similarly, the Camphill movement, based on the writings of Rudolf Steiner, has established communities where people with developmental disabilities live and work with non-disabled "coworkers," many in rural settings where they also promote sustainable agriculture.  Unfortunately many of these programs charge a hefty tuition or residential fee, putting them out of the reach of most persons with disabilities and their families.

A few residential programs which have been influenced by the ideas of Vanier and Steiner do accept public funding (Medicaid), however.  One of these is Down Home Ranch in Elgin, Texas.  Founded by Jerry and Judy Horton in the early 1990s, it is a working ranch where 20 ranchers with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities and live-in resident assistants live and work together.  Along with caring for livestock, the ranchers cultivate hanging baskets, Easter lilies, and poinsettias in their five greenhouses to sell to the public.  During the summer, 500 campers enjoy a week of Ranch Camp at the ranch.  It sounds like a great residential option, and I'm hoping to check it out, perhaps sending Tevis down there for a camp session this summer.