Golden Heart Ranch 3

A Legacy for Special Needs

If you or others you know have special needs children, what resources are available for their support, particularly, when it comes to housing and jobs? Millions of dollars are spent each year for various programs, but little attention is given to providing homes and employment for these children as they become adults.

According to Rose van Wier Hein, executive director and founder of Golden Heart Ranch, special needs young adults have the same needs as any typical young adult. They require a sense of accomplishment, socialization, physical activity, and opportunities to grow and have a secure, dignified quality of life. For the most part, such facilities are not available, but that’s about to change for Conejo Valley families with grown children with special needs.

Van Wier Hein and her Director of Development Kevan Huncke are in the process of building a 22-acre, intentional residential community in the picturesque Agoura Hills in Kanan Canyon. The sprawling, ranch-like locale is being designed as a life-long haven and vocational training setting for young adults with special needs in the Conejo Valley.

Whether autism, Down Syndrome, epilepsy, anxiety disorder, physical impairment or other developmental disabilities, GHR is intending to give special needs young adults a community of their own.

“We will help these young adults reach their fullest potential by living, learning, working, and playing side-by-side in a harmonic and caring environment,” says van Wier Hein.

For those with special needs children, their burning question is “What happens to my child if I become too ill to care for them or when I die?” As the mother of a 22-year-old son who was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy when he was 2, van Wier Hein asked that same question, finding few answers.

A Glimmer of Hope

A visit to a farm in the Netherlands for special needs children in 2006 gave van Wier Hein a glimmer of hope. Returning home and finding little in the way of resources available in her own country, van Wier Hein decided to fill the need by founding Golden Heart Ranch in the South Bay area where she lived. GHR received its 501c(3) status in 2009 and relies solely on donations and volunteer support.

Director of Development Kevan and her husband do not have a special needs child, but for many years have actively supported Special Olympics and other activities for disabled children and adults. In late 2014, she began searching for land to develop a camp for children with disabilities and found a dilapidated former day camp that fit the bill. She also discovered that Rose was looking at the same property in Kanan Canyon. Although they had never met, an immediate collaboration, friendship, and partnership emerged and Conejo’s Golden Heart Ranch was born.

Opportunity for Growth

With the basic infrastructure in place at the Agoura Hills facility, and with a lot more work and support from the community, the plans are to introduce a number of programs to engage, teach and support the young adults staying at GHR and those participating in their day camps. Onsite jobs such as working in the organic gardens, bakery, coffee house, and supporting ranch events for companies that arrange team-building programs, retreats or other group activities will be available to the young adults. Offsite opportunities will be presented through the ranch’s own thrift shop and in local communities, where the young adults can earn their own spending money.

The young adults will also be involved in many programs to stretch their cognitive abilities, including art, woodworking, horticulture, farm animal care, looming, sports, and a variety of other learning experiences. Field trips will be planned to encourage ongoing exploration of the world around them.

Rose notes, “Volunteers, parents and carefully selected staff will work together to make certain the young adults in their care receive the best possible lifestyle opportunities to help each one reach their highest potential. It is imperative that these young adults are happily challenged and given every chance to become productive members of our society.”

As an example, she referenced the plans to institute cooking classes, wherein some of the residents will actually do the cooking, while others wash the vegetables from their garden, set the table for the meal, arrange floral displays, do the meal service or clean up afterwards. She believes, “It’s important to play to their individual strengths and desires, while continuing to set the bar at the next level in everything we do here.”

In California, alone, more than 300,000 children have been diagnosed with special needs issues and the number is growing at a staggering rate.

“Ninety percent of young adults with special needs have no place to go and live out their lives happily and fruitfully. There needs to be choices, not the current, ineffective system that requires the children to fit into its restrictive mold. For young adults with special needs, this is counterproductive and does not promote their growth or lifestyle possibilities,” says Rose. “Golden Heart Ranch does.”

“We’re building a life center, residential community where our special needs young adults can live for their entire lives, learn, work, play and create solid relationships. Structure is critical for their success and helping them reach their potential, whatever it is, is what we’re all about.”

For more information on Golden Heart Ranch, visit GoldenHeartRanch.com or call Kevan Huncke at 805.390.3767 or Rose van Wier Hein at 310.567.6984.