Photos by Libby Rogers
Inspiration Village is a residential ranch, designed for intellectually-disabled adolescents and adults, carved out of 90 acres of East Texas Piney Woods on Hwy 94 in Trinity. The non-profit 501 (c)(3) was formed in February 2005 by a group who has invested everything to turn this dream into a reality. We recently walked the grounds with co-founder Connie Price to hear about the work being done and the impact they are having in the lives of clients they have been working with from Trinity and the surrounding counties.
I have a son with severe autism. He is a client here. His father and I were watching a news program about a lady who had been running a group home for several intellectually-disabled men, and she had been locking them up in a shed. What do you make of that? We already knew that we were going to have to do something with our own son, but we wanted him to have a place to go where he would be able to find himself. We wanted him to be able to find a level of independence and be able to socialize. Most of our clients will have been through the school system, usually for 14 years or more, and have benefited from it as much as possible. When they graduate, if they are not able to read and write, at that point they likely won’t. Here our goal is not to provide an educational setting, but to facilitate these mentally-challenged adolescents and adults to live and work with dignity and become as independent as their abilities allow. We try to do that by the incorporation of learning with everyday life experiences like safety awareness, general hygiene, basic animal care, gardening, enhancing social skills, arts and crafts, music, and they spend some time playing and practicing for the Special Olympics.
Yes, this year our clients have decided our shirts are going to be camo with orange writing, and we are going to be the Inspiration Village Woodsmen. We will have people competing in bocce, bowling, power lifting, track and field, and we are going to try swimming, I think. The first qualifiers are in Huntsville this year starting in September. It is a lot of fun for them; they get so excited about the games. They practice bocce out here pretty often.
Well, we helped found it, but we are not running it. We have a board of directors and an advisory board. My husband is on the board of directors. I am considered a non-paid worker. My daughter does work for Inspiration Village, she does a lot out here, and one of my sons is a client. My husband and I did purchase the land, which we rent to Inspiration Village for $1.00 a year. We kept a small piece of the land and are in the process of building a house there so we can be here full-time and continue working to get things where we want them to be.
We would love to grow it into a full-time operation with some independent housing in the future, but for now, Inspiration Village is a day program. We start running the vans early, around 6:45 every morning, and we pick up in most of the surrounding counties. We are actually open from 9:00-3:00. Once all the clients arrive, they go with their groups to their stations. Right now, our clients run from 18-78 years old. Each month, they switch stations so that everyone can work every area. Some different areas we have are the goats and the chickens, the cows and miniature horses, the garden, the kitchen, the craft room, and the activity room. The clients are all given certain chores depending on their ability, and they are expected to do their jobs at each station. It gives them pride and a sense of purpose to have something that people are relying on them to do. They have friends here they can socialize with and accomplish tasks with. Plus, a lot of times, just working with the animals can help calm the clients. Along with the day-hab here on the ranch, we do day trips. We have been to the Lufkin zoo, the movies, bowling, one year we tried the Rodeo. We take them to pools and the splash pad in Huntsville. They like to get out and experience things and have fun.
We contract through DADS (Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services), and they pay about $20.00 a day usually, which is not very much when you consider what is being done out here. We have several fundraisers throughout the year. We do catfish plates at Joseph’s Restaurant once or twice a year. We have had a booth at places like the fair, Fair on the Square, and the Mushroom Festival, where we sell the crafts the clients make. For Halloween this year, we are going to do something new. We are going to have a haunted drive through some of the trails here and have booths set up around. Hopefully, we can get some new people to come out and see what we have going on, and also raise some money to continue to build the necessary facilities to help more clients in the future. We have had some businessmen from the community come out to help us. Dean Price and Ed Tindall have both been out here on their dozers doing work, helping clear the land. Ed did the pads for the buildings when we bought them. Mike Fulsom, he has been with us since the beginning and does a lot to try to get the word out about Inspiration Village–including telling Postcards about what we are doing out here.
I have people say all the time, “Oh, you guys are doing fine.” I know that when you look at what we have been able to accomplish, it may seem like we don’t need any help; in truth, my husband and I both work full-time jobs and put nearly everything we make into this place out of our own pockets. Inspiration Village is a non-profit, but we still have bills. We still have needed facilities to build. Right now, we have three full-time employees, one part-time employee, and the gas bill to pick up the clients every day is over $1,000.00 a month on its own. There are a few things we could greatly benefit from, like a barn big enough to house and allow for the care of animals inside, and an activity center with enough room to hold all of the clients during bad weather when we can’t be outside. We would love to build the proper living facilities to be able to take clients for independent living, so that we could continue to see positive growth in the lives of our clients. We just have such big plans for this place!
(Laughing) Well, I wouldn’t quit my job, because I wouldn’t have any money left! If we were able to finish the barn and activity center and a few projects like that, I would slide over to central Texas, buy some more land, and do it all over again. This type of organization is necessary. There are far too many people who fall into the intellectually-disabled category who have nowhere to go to belong—nowhere to find purpose. We have plenty of vision. We know what we want to accomplish, but organizations like these take more than one person. It takes a community willing to step up and help those who are not always able to help themselves. We are very thankful to all of the people who have supported us out here in any way—very thankful for everyone helping us reach our goals and helping our clients find a sense of belonging.
To find out more, call (936) 594-1588 or visit their website at www.inspirationvillage.org.