"I knew that any right dream can be realized. Material resources are at the beck and call of the dream. "
Catherine Marshall, Beyond Ourselves
In talking with a friend recently I again heard a story of another woman pursuing her dream! Deborah's dream was to provide a farming environment for people who have autism and other developmental disabilities, and that supports their vocational, recreational, and residential needs. Her dream has come true, and her mission has now become the mission of a new enterprise, Farmsteads of New England, Inc.
I decided to meet Deborah and hear her story. Why did she have that dream? Where did it begin? Deborah's story will be different from yours or mine, but it is always interesting to see how dreams start and then guide us on heart path to a purposeful life or life-work activity. Hearing such stories can suggest what to look for in our own lives. We may have missed experiences and events that hold a clue to our life purpose and dreams!
A Journey Begins
In Deborah’s words:
“I've always been interested in helping people. As a little girl, I wanted to be a nurse. In high school, I was involved in tutoring children who were in a class that was labeled “trainable mentally retarded. " I enjoyed working with those kids, and became attached to one girl who was autistic. At that time, a teacher told me I should be in special education. I told her, “No". I decided I wanted to become a doctor instead of a nurse.
"After starting in college as a pre-med major, I became very unhappy and knew somehow that wasn't right. I dropped out of college and ended up tutoring kids with learning disabilities. I then went back to college- Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts- and got a bachelor's degree in education with concentration on special education. Next was getting a master's degree in learning disabilities and emotional handicaps from the University of Virginia.
"I taught high school students who had these disabilities, and did that for about twenty years with time off to marry and have a family. My second child was born with a rare metabolic disorder that caused him to be severely retarded and on the autism spectrum. When Andrew was eight years old, I began wondering what the future would hold for him. I thought a farm would be a good environment because it would allow him to use his gross (big) motor skills and his excess energy. He loved large open spaces, and a farm would meet those needs. Also, farming provides many activities that have concrete results. A person can understand why they are doing the work they are doing. And, Andrew wouldn’t have to be isolated and lonely.
A Dream is Born
“I began dreaming of a farm community where my son could live and work alongside other people with similar needs and a supportive staff. I sat on this idea for a number of years. When I started my doctoral program in special education administration, and Andrew was about 11, I began researching the idea of rural opportunities and discovered there was a farming community in Ohio that was specifically geared to people with autism. That was exciting- my dream existed somewhere and it was working!
"In looking around New Hampshire to see what existed for adult services, I realized that I was going to have to start my own farmstead. When Andrew was 16, I decided it might take me five years to get this off the ground, and it would be ready for him when he was 21. In 1999, I quit my full time job as a teacher, and put articles in newspapers to let people know I was interested in forming a farmstead. I got a core group of people together and formed a corporation in 2000. We formed a board of directors, got tax-exempt status in 2001, and started fundraising. We purchased the historic Rosewald Farm in Hillsborough, New Hampshire in 2003 and began providing services!
The Dream Grows
“We currently have five residential adult “farmers" (clients) who live here and four who come for day services. We're about to build additional residences so we can provided added services to more people. We are making a difference in people's lives. One girl didn't know if she could handle the terrain, and didn't know if she could walk up stairs. She now does these things and more. She just blossomed. Her dad came to visit and burst into tears when he saw her walking up the stairs!
"Our “farmers" have an enviable life here- a beautiful place to live, friends close by, and meaningful work to do. My goal is for people to go to bed at night and feel proud of themselves for accomplishing something important during the day. We gave Farmsteads of New England (www.farmsteads-ne.org) a plural name and a wide geographic reference, because we would like to duplicate this opportunity in other places. My other goal, once it is running for five years, is to have the experience behind us to help others get a farmstead started!
"It's been an exciting and very difficult journey, but very rewarding to see my dream come to fruition and people's lives improving. The real reward is seeing people be able to enjoy companionship and lead productive lives. "
How exciting, also, to see Deborah's heart passions, born I believe from God's purposes for her life, evolve into something that is so unique and helpful to those whose lives have often been marginalized. May she continue to see the fulfillment of all her dreams and goals! Many more with autism and developmental disabilities will only benefit from her commitment to serving them- and I could add, to helping set them free to be the person God called each of them to be! Happy dream journey,
©Copyright 2006 - Judy Peterson. All Rights Reserved.
You are free to re-print this article or forward it to someone else as long as you include the following resource box at the end and as long as you link to the URL mentioned in the resource box.
Through life stories, practical help, and inspirational guidance, author and speaker, Judy Peterson helps others identify a God-given dream or passion and pursue their life purpose. This is based on her experience as a businesswoman and on her book, Follow Your Heart and Discover God’s Dream For You. Please visit http://www.followyourheart.info .
Unless otherwise specified, the New International Version (NIV) is used for all biblical verses.
This publication is registered with the Library of Congress in Washington, DC - ISSN 1551-5907.