In the summer of 2010, we painted the newly rehabbed 4 bedroom house a forest green. We fenced two acres of pasture and moved in two alpacas, five cashmere goats and a bunch of chickens. Over the next 10 months we got to know eight (yes 8!) pretty cool guys and their families.
Five years later, and these same eight guys are still around. There are five guys living here at a time now, here on the Hill.. in two different houses. All eight of the guys have spent time living with each other here. Some have left… and returned, left again… or moved to their own apartments, or gone home with family for health reasons. But still… on Wednesdays and birthdays, most of the original 8 guys are together. Celebrating milestones together, working together (well, a little!), going on trips together, hanging out on market day in the Juniper Hill booth together, talking together, eating together, just being good friends… together.
The ease of their interactions is obvious… how sensitive they are to each other’s moods, and how much they care if someone is not having a good day. The support they give to each other, the shared humor, shared food, and shared history. The brotherly bickering and how quickly it gets resolved. The level of confident independence at which they move through their day … with each other for company and support.
Five years ago, we began as a Housing Model. We are a family now, and Juniper Hill Farms is a Home. It’s different, and it comes with complications.
For the last five years, the slide below has been the final point made in the Juniper Hill Farms presentations that I’ve done for family groups, housing, or autism organizations.
‘Our goal is to help other families feel capable of creating a living situation like this for their family member’
Seriously, ‘Our‘ goal? Wait, let me check with the guys. Hmmm I don’t think so.
It was, and still is one of MY goals. Learning from these guys about life? It’s still exciting every single day. I laugh, I get frustrated, I philosophize, I have fun. Every experience with them shapes the story of how to create a life of ‘inter’dependence and happiness for an adult with autism… a story that will hopefully encourage other families to give it a try. In five years, the learning curve has not leveled off, not in the least. It continues to show the increasing complexity of an independent life with autism, and how rich that life can be for them as well as for everyone around them who is lucky enough to be along for the ride.
The guys, however? They now have other interests. And priorities.They really just want to get on with their lives.
We had so many visitors that first year. We had an open bedroom so that we could welcome interested guys who were looking for more independence and who wanted to see what that felt like for a week or two, or a month or two. Its scary to just make a move… much easier to just test the waters. So just come to Juniper Hill to try it out! It was a really good idea, at the time.
We also had families and groups of people from related fields visiting to see what we were doing. The guys were used to strangers coming in and out.
and actually … well, they were strangers as well!
Brand new to the living situation, we all did the best we could. There were not a lot of established routines that first year… everything was a trial run and we worked out kinks every day. We learned how to take care of animals and we tried to grow sunflowers. We had dinner together every night, went on fun trips together, argued and worked things out. We became friends with the staff, and with each other. Semi-organized chaos, that first year or two.
Then slowly, things began to change.
First the comfort level, then the trust, began to build. That’s when everyone started to get their own ideas about things. They started talking to each other, instead of just to the staff and me. They made their own plans.
Fast forward five years. It’s now September, 2015!
These days, what we have on ‘the Hill’ is community. And we have a home, and a family. It is not that different from most other people’s homes. Everyone here has a life that involves getting out into the wider community every day.. where they work, volunteer, exercise, shop and eat. Just like most people. They come home each day and sit around the dinner table and shoot the sh*t. They grab a bowl of ice cream, their IPad, or ‘their’ seat in front of the TV and watch movies. Or documentaries. Or animated funny stuff with raunchy jokes. On weekends they sleep late…. hang out with the animals… take care of their home…walk to the creek. Just like most people.
So… what’s the problem?
Try to imagine people showing up in your kitchen at 9 in the morning. Every. Single. Day. 9AM. When you just want to grab a glass of orange juice in your Hello Kitty pajama sweat pants and go back to bed and read a book (hey, there is more than just one of us with Hello Kitty pajamas..) We love the staff. Just not always at 9AM.
And how about MEETINGS?? Looking forward to coming home from work in mid-afternoon and taking a nap on the couch? There are five people who are a part of your housemate’s ‘team’ sitting on it already. YOUR couch, not theirs.
and WEDNESDAYS!! When our best friends come over, and our former housemates. and each person’s staff. and people doing community service. and volunteers. and everyone is trying to talk at once and the house is not big enough and people are trying to cook lunch and staff are catching up with each other and both bathrooms are OCCUPIED at the same time and no one really feels like ‘volunteering’ anymore because they just want to hang out. and EAT. No wonder it’s sometimes the day of meltdowns and hiding in bedrooms. But.. we LOVE Wednesdays too. Wednesdays are how we BECAME this community. (and we do get some sunflowers planted…. and watered…).
Families call regularly and ask to visit the farm. There are so many young people on the spectrum who are coming of age and want to have a life independent from their parents. There are also so many aging parents who wonder what plans to make for their adult child. Farm life sounds good to many of them, and most people want to see it for themselves.
So we are planning better now. Most meetings can happen at Starbucks (better coffee too), or the supports coordinator’s office, or outside on the picnic table. (Anyplace but the couch. Or the kitchen table!)
and visitors.. feel free to come on Wednesdays… we will feed you! and occasionally during the week we will sneak you in when it’s quiet. Just don’t come on the weekends, that’s pajamas time.
We look ‘bigger’ on the internet… on this blog, our Facebook page, our YouTube and Instagram. We look ‘bigger’ in pictures.. pictures of sunflowers, and pictures of great food, pictures of our booth at the weekly farmers market, and group photos with our animals and friends.
Really… we are just a home. Not so different from yours. It gets kind of confusing to entertain so much of the time.
and…well…. we don’t always want to dust. That’s all.
See you on…… Wednesdays!