Thursday, April 18, 2024

Tierra Village is thriving thanks to intention, but needs more support

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LEAVENWORTH - Tucked into Sunitsch Canyon five miles up the Chumstick from Leavenworth, Tierra Learning Center (TLC) is a familiar name associated with the retreat center, Mountain Sprouts preschool, the garden, and, of course, Tierra Village. But how does it all fit together?

Tierra Village is, in fact, the heart of TLC, a nonprofit created specifically with the mission to “provide people with intellectual disabilities homes in a beautiful natural setting and service in a collaborative, integrated, diverse community.”

The garden, the retreat center, and Mountain Sprouts, a lessee, are complementary additions to provide a diversified community interconnected with those who live in Tierra Village full-time.

Tierra Village’s Coyote House, which opened in 2013, houses five residents, and they’re hoping to add a sixth. Adding a new resident is a thoughtful process to ensure it is a good fit for all. Unlike homes that meet the minimum State requirements for adult family homes, the house is spacious. Each resident has their own bedroom, and there are common spaces: a living room with a foosball table, a cluster of comfy couches and walls of colorful art, a wide upper deck overlooking the woods and fields beyond, and a large kitchen.

Coyote House staff coordinate residents’ unique schedules and needs and assist with daily routines, while the residents contribute to caring for their shared home, rotating chores, and cooking together.

The other critical entities that comprise Tierra Village are the TRAILS Day Program and the Tierra Employment Services. TRAILS stands for Tierra Recreation Arts Independent Life Skills, and it does all that for about 30 participants from throughout the Wenatchee Valley who come Monday through Thursday.

A snapshot of a winter’s month of TRAILS offerings includes mindful movement, sledding, cooking, movie nights, games, and lots of art. Summer yields chances for participants to even try rock climbing and whitewater rafting.

The weekly consistency of TRAILS cultivates connections and deep friendships through shared experiences. Participants travel from as far as Chelan to take part, and families are thrilled at the enriching activities that grow independence, confidence, self-expression, and community-mindedness.

Tierra Garden is utilized frequently by the TRAILS Program. During the growing season, small groups cycle through four days a week and help with seeding, cultivation, and harvesting.

“During the height of the season, the flower beds are the most popular activity in the garden,” said Laura Lentz, Tierra Garden Manager. “Some participants enjoy making flower arrangements, sometimes talking excitedly about who they are going to give the flowers to, or what they will do with them. Some participants enjoy deadheading and pruning, fulfilling an important role in maintaining the health of the flowers. Other participants enjoy simply sitting around the flowers and noticing the beautiful colors and shapes and the buzzing of pollinating insects.” 

Lentz described the many benefits. “[Projects] empower the participants to shape and explore their own experience in the garden. Intentional times are set aside for group check-ins, to work on social skills and practice active listening, for creative thinking exercises around the actual work that needs to be done, and for community involvement, through delivering produce and starting a farmstand at Tierra that TRAILS will staff.”

Next door to Coyote House lives Toni Giorgetti, an adult who needs around-the-clock care. Her father, Pat, shares the new small house and is her primary caretaker. While Giorgetti attends the TRAILS programs four days a week for five hours, Pat finds time to run errands or take a rest. 

Giorgetti’s sister, Amy Summers, who lives locally, considers Tierra Village the gold standard of care for adults with intellectual disabilities. Her sister and dad moved there last summer after her mother, Giorgetti’s primary caregiver, passed away. 

“I drive up every morning to get Toni ready for TRAILS,” said Summers. “My sister is nonverbal and needs a lot of help. She feels safe and loved here. Other residents look out for her. They take ownership and pride in their program. Everyone here knows you and helps each other. The staff say, ‘We’re here for you too.’ They’re so supportive of the whole family.”

Summers described small moments that show care for where each person is at, such as when Lentz lightly ran lavender up Giorgetti’s arms, causing her to giggle in delight.

The move has also helped Summer’s dad through some of his grief. “My dad loves projects. He’s always fixing things, the fence for the donkeys, a door, or a toilet.”

Tierra’s Employment Services, which began in 2018, helps over a dozen clients find meaningful employment in integrated work environments and receive job coaching. The work of the three job coaches can vary from check-ins on the job to helping alongside the client modeling skills. 

Potential program expansion is possible now that infrastructure improvements, including road widening and paving and additional buildings, are complete. Andrew Holm, longtime TLC Director of Operations, said, “The planned development gets our infrastructure where it needs to be to serve more people here on site. Now that we’ve completed this round of buildings, it’s hard to imagine that we were operating before without them! We’re ready to grow our programs now.”

Holm’s role is to plan for and manage the many challenges associated with 305 acres. “The most meaningful challenges lie in deliberations regarding how active our stewardship practices should be. This is constantly present as we work through forest management projects. Sunitsch Canyon has a long agricultural tradition, and this is something we deliberately want to continue—forwarding a land ethic with integrity, stability and beauty.”

On several levels, Tierra Village can serve as a model of integration of human and natural diversity. “It gives hope to families who can feel isolated and overwhelmed by prospects for the future of their loved ones,” said Summers. “If I could replicate Tierra so that everyone could experience love and support, I would.”

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