Thoughts and illustrations on living with Asperger's Syndrome.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Juniper Hill Farms: It Just Works.

I’ve met some very cool people through this blog, but perhaps the most awesome of them all have been right in my own backyard. Juniper Hill Farms is an independent living community of adults on the autism spectrum. These folks found me a few months ago, by way of thAutcast. We got to messaging, and turns out, they’re only a 20 minute drive from my house. So I went out to see them!

Juniper Hill consists of Diane Belnavis’s farm, her six tenants, their support people, and lots of animals. It’s not a licensed facility or a group home; it’s simply a household of people living and working together. All the residents are either on the autism spectrum or have another disability. Most are in their early 20’s and need assistance to live independently. They work on the farm, pay rent, and receive assistance from their support people several times a week.

Diane’s background is in the disabilities field, and she currently works as Housing Director for a local agency. Juniper Hill was a project she started about a year ago, as something she always dreamed of doing. Her adopted son Brent, who has autism, has lived with her family for thirty years. Juniper Hill applies her knowledge of what works, based on that professional and life experience. Her own role is one she describes as "bossy big sister," but that doesn't really do it justice. What she has built is simply incredible.

It is a real mix of personalities on the farm, and everyone's differences have been the greatest challenge, Diane explained to me. Some of the guys are quite talkative, some not so much. Interests and hobbies vary greatly, from Star Wars to Halo to Barbie. It didn't always go smoothly during the first year. Everyone needed to just get used to one another, but now, Diane says they get along really well. Now, they do much more cooking, and much less arguing.The guys all want to tell their stories too, which they are doing through their own pages on the Juniper web site.

As for the animals, there are alpacas, which are used for fiber, cashmere goats, and big fluffy angora rabbits. There are the exotic and very loud guinea hens. And some chickens, and sheep, and pot bellied pigs, and an emu, and Kit the Chihuahua, who followed us everywhere. Feeding time is best observed from a safe distance outside the pen, because they all tend to go nutso for food.

Inside the house, a fire is going, DVD's line the wall, and a pool table is covered in figurines and Lego. Brent’s specialty is crocheting blankets, which he sells through Blankets by Brent. Dude is fast, too! He hands me a ball of yarn and motions for me to hold it while he works. I quickly find myself unwinding and unwinding continuously to keep up with him.

In the spring they’ll be planting sunflowers to sell, making birdhouses, and much more. On weekends they often have social activities, such as today's Harlem Globetrotters game which they received donated tickets for. Sunday dinner is one of the highlights of each week. Diane has all kinds of big dreams for the place. You can read all about it on her excellent blog. Very exciting stuff.

I’ve started to visit the farm once a week or so, to see where I can help out. It’s been great fun so far, and remarkable to see all that goes on. It's a place filled with stories, and I've only just begun to scratch the surface. But it's made quite an impression on me in a short time. It strikes me a peaceful place where people are allowed to just be who they are, and coexist with others who are very different.

"It just works…" Diane says. "We didn’t plan to not have a plan… it is just evolving this way." It’s that simple.

And hey, one more thing... if you need any further proof of how awesome this place is, Juniper Hill was where this Animal Collective video was filmed a few years ago. (Before a rehab project on the house, much needed after all the splattered paint and eggs!)



Photos belong to juniperhillfarms.org.

12 comments:

  1. What a wonderful place for these people to find harmony and home. Thanks so much for sharing Matt!

    Laura

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    1. Thanks Laura, I think "harmony and home" is an apt description!

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  2. I had no idea of this place ... and right in my (former) backyard, too. God bless Diane for doing this. I'll definitely check out the blog. Thanks for sharing this with us!

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    1. You're welcome, and I thought the same thing, "Who knew?"

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  3. This was such an inspiring post!! Thanks so much for sharing, what a great place!

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  4. I've been reading a little bit about this when following links from your blogroll; it's so great to hear how it all comes together with folks working together. (Also, my Aspie kid is crazy about Hero Factory too, maybe he can send them a picture of his creations sometime!)

    Thanks for sharing how you've become involved with this too; I wish there was anything similar in our backyard. Gorgeous sunflowers, too!

    - Hanne

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Hanne. **Still doesn't know what Hero Factory is, but I have the feeling I'll be hearing about it.**

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. You have just put reality to my very dream of some day having a community of people whose gifts could be valued while living and playing in a supported environment without it being a "group Home" scenario. Way to go Dianne, must be something in the name lol.
    Dianne Cowan

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    1. You're welcome! It is a wonderful dream.

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  6. This was interesting to see - came via Twitter. I have a son with autism, and it's great to see some examples of good living situations. Thank you for posting.

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    1. You're welcome, Dixie, and thanks for reblogging.

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