We were on the road again to visit and better understand two residential options in beautiful, autumnal Virginia: The Faison Centers of Excellence Compassionate Community and Innisfree Village. Both residential models are mission-oriented communities, or intentional communities,  where people with and without disabilities choose to live together. Though these two communities are very different, they share in their commitment to neurodiversity! Neurodiverse means many expressions of neurology, from those who are neurotypical to those on the autism spectrum, and/or those who have an intellectual or other developmental disability.

Sitting in the heart of Richmond, VA, the Faison Residence is an apartment building with one, two, and three bedroom apartments. We met with Jamie Bass who shared the history of the Faison School and the direction of its latest venture. Using the latest innovative technology, residents will have the opportunity to live as independently as possible with less need for direct care providers as technology will help guide them through life’s challenges. This apartment building is trendy, offers retail space, and condo amenities. Residents will be able to choose from a menu of support service options tailored to their needs.  Moreover, this project will offer reasonably priced apartments and individual living plans for residents with developmental disabilities within a residential complex specifically designed to best meet their needs. Their apartments will be interspersed among apartments of professionals like teachers, nurses and others who understand their challenges and model positive life skills.

intentional communities

Our second stop was Innisfree Village, which is an amazing rural community nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Carolyn Ohle, Executive Director gave us an in-depth tour and spoke in detail about the guiding principles behind the farm, an overview of its inception more than 40 years ago, and how Innisfree has grown over the years. She explained that the importance of lifesharing at Innisfree means that coworkers and their caregivers live, work, and play together, sharing the joys, sorrows, satisfactions, and frustrations of everyday living. In this environment, everyone learns from each other and community members develop profound relationships.

The woven textiles, wood handicrafts, organic vegetables and herbs, and free-range chicken eggs etc. rival any upscale specialty shop. However, Innisfree remains focused on its mission and quality of life, and not on entrepreneurship and profit margins. The return on increasing production would stress workers unnecessarily.

intentional communities
Innisfree Village

Full-time, live-in, volunteer caregivers staff Innisfree’s residential houses. These caregivers live side-by-side with Innisfree’s residents with intellectual disabilities, known as coworkers. Caregivers manage Innisfree households and provide personal care to the coworkers who live there. Caregivers also work with coworkers in Innisfree’s therapeutic workstations, which include a bakery, community kitchen, farm, free school, herb garden, vegetable garden, weavery, and wood shop. Innisfree is currently seeking 3-4 full-time residential caregivers who can begin a year of service in December 2013 or Jan/Feb/March 2014. This is a unique opportunity if you are interested in community living, working with people with special needs, and rural life or farming/gardening.  For more information visit the website.

As always, it is a privilege to connect people through shared stories, lessons learned, successes, and challenges. If you would like Madison House Autism Foundation to visit and feature a particular community, e-mail [email protected].

About the Author

Desiree Kameka, Director of Housing

Desiree is the project lead for the Autism Housing Network. Her work for the Madison House Autism Foundation focuses on researching housing issues, advocating on issues of autism in adulthood, and presenting her work at local and national gatherings. She visits residential communities and social enterprises across the USA and highlights their unique victories and learning curves while sharing stories of individuals on the spectrum or who have other developmental disabilities. Her passion is empowering autistic adults and parents to create a future that is exciting and life affirming by offering small group consultations for forming projects.