By Sarah Seely
A decade ago, Stephen’s Place was just a dream. A “wouldn’t it be amazing if” idea that sat in the minds of the Kuni family. It may be one of those things, that you wouldn’t really understand how needed it was, or how absent it was, until you needed it for yourself, or for someone you cared about.
Imagine for a moment if you will, what it might feel like, to have a child, friend, or other family member who you have cared for since they were little. Imagine that they are now an adult wanting to live on their own or you know you will soon be unable to care for them yourself. You are excited and ready for them to have some independence, to navigate the world and be a part of their community. However, you have concerns. This person has an additional challenge in their life. Your loved one is also on the Autism spectrum, or lives with Downs Syndrome. Right now you are providing them with a loving home, and you want them to always have that, but what you cannot provide for them is community, independence, and friends. You want safety but you want them to feel independent. This person has a disability, but the disability is not all that they are. You want them to be around other like-minded individuals who can offer a safe place, encouragement and a sense of community.
Ten years ago Joan Kuni began to consider these things herself. She was facing this challenge of finding a place for her son to live semi-independently and happily. The Kuni foundation which Wayne Kuni and Joan founded, wanted to fund such a place, or offer a grant. The search for a private facility of this type resulted in one place in California which was already at full capacity for residents. The idea of creating this type of a community residence closer to home seemed like huge undertaking, but if it were possible, would be life changing not only for the Kuni family, but for adults everywhere that were in need of such a place. The more they looked into what was available, the more it became apparent that one facility in California was just not enough. So many people would benefit. Building a community right here was just the type of thing that the Kuni foundation was created to do. This community would be named Stephen’s Place, after one of the Kuni family’s sons, who passed away as a young adult.
As the largest shareholder in Kuni Automotive, the Kuni foundation was set to make this dream come true. But this was not an easy task to embark on. With only one other community of this type in existence there were not many examples to take a lead from. The first challenge was finding the perfect property to build on. Finding a safe, easily accessible, friendly neighborhood location was quite a bit harder to find than it sounds. It did take much longer than hoped to find the right place, but it is truly a perfect location.
Stephen’s Place found its home in Vancouver, Washington. With the Portland airport only six miles away, Portland and downtown Vancouver very close by and easily accessed by freeway, it truly is close to everything. Stephen’s Place is located in the Ellsworth neighborhood across form an elementary school which they partner with for enrichment programs! Grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theaters, banks, and churches are all nearby. A truly perfect location and well worth the wait.
The second biggest hurdle was trying to get everyone to understand what it was they were trying to create. This was not a just a retirement home or an assisted living residency. This was a community of people living their lives to the fullest in a fully licensed and staffed care facility. The people who live here will be adults with complex language, learning and cognitive disabilities who can live semi-independently. Stephen’s Place is completely private pay, but not for profit. Scholarships or endowments will be in place for residents who lose the ability to pay. The building for Stephen’s Place has been completely funded, so they had the opportunity to begin without any debt. The rent the residents pay goes toward their meals, utilities, programs and caring staff. Residents are encouraged to be a part of the community, work or volunteer and get out and do things, not just stay in their rooms. Job Coaching is available to residents as well as volunteer opportunities at local elementary schools, animal shelters, hospitals, and other local organizations.
On February 18th Stephen’s place had its long awaited opening and welcomed its very first residents.
Upon entering you are engulfed in a feeling of warmth and friendliness. It feels safe and inviting.
With wide hallways, spacious rooms and tall ceilings there is room to breathe and relax. This is not a place of confinement, it is a place to be open, relax and feel at home.
It doesn’t take long to recognize this is a place that facilitates connection and being part of a social community.
Social programming plays an important role in encouraging engagement with peers and creating a sense of community. Some examples of Stephen’s Place programming are:
- Bingo Night
- Coffee Socials
- Dance Parties
- Game night
- Ice Cream Socials
- Juice Bar Happy Hour
- Movie night
Upstairs you will find a library where children from the Good Shepherd Montessori school recently donated books. In thanks, one of the residents read to the children! This library will continue to grow over time as residents add to it.
This media room is perfect for gatherings of friends and family. A television, computer access and popcorn maker are available for use. It’s a great place to throw a Super Bowl party or have a movie night with friends.
Another great community room boasts an air hockey table and kitchen with shadowboxes on the wall for residents to display art work and other projects.
A closet full of games and art supplies are ready for use in this area. Classes in Jewelry making, photography, and sewing also available at Stephen’s Place.
This is a great place for residents to challenge the staff to a lively game of Jenga.
Exercise is encouraged at Stephen’s Place and a gym area is onsite. It is equipped with a special recumbent bike easily accessible and versatile for all types of users. The fitness room is also be used for professional training sessions, yoga, dance, and circuit training. Other fitness programming at Stephen’s Place includes a monthly fitness challenge and sports studies.
At Stephen’s Place three meals a day are provided. They are cooked by professional chefs who specialize in creating healthy delicious meals for those with dietary restrictions. This statement was tested out fully for the purpose of this article, and we can confirm the meals created here are fabulous!
Even the dining area was created with a consideration of creating a space that promotes community and togetherness. Every table has extendable sides so that others may easily join in and all tables are easily moved together to form a giant communal table.
Residents and guest can grab a beverage or snack at this mini kitchen within the dining room.
A screened in patio provides a relaxing seating area to enjoy a morning cup of tea or a late afternoon conversation.
A beautiful greenhouse donated by Greg and Michelle Goodwin will be a perfect place for residents to learn about and grow their own plants. Raised beds in the community garden will also be used by the kitchen to become more self-sustaining.
The courtyard is a great place for residents to take a stroll to get some fresh air, mingle, and enjoy a summer BBQ.
The hallways are wide and bright with lots of room for residents to hang their own artwork or help decorate in a way that is meaningful to them.
At Stephen’s Place, residents are given ongoing training to become more responsible and independent adults.
- Washing and folding their own laundry
- Personal hygiene & Grooming
- Navigating public transportation
- Interpersonal relationship skills
- Budgeting & managing finance
- Cooking classes
- Responsibilities like getting their own mail from their mailbox
Since Stephen’s Place is located in a residential neighborhood, the views from the rooms are what you would expect from any other home. Residents are encouraged to decorate to their apartments to their own taste.
The rooms are different sizes depending on residents need. There are studios and one bedrooms with small to full kitchens.
Each room has its own restroom with accessible shower, but a special private bathtub is also available for those who would like to use it.
Throughout Stephen’s Place there are several areas for families to sit and visit, other than just the residents apartment. On the wall near the seating area pictured below is the namesake of Stephen’s Place itself!
The staff of Stephen’s place stays away from the term “facility”. This is because even though the health and safety of their residents is closely monitored, the better term is community. You can see from the photographs that this feels much more like someone’s home than a clinical care facility.
Stephen’s Place is for the community. Come take a tour and see for yourself the great home that has been created here. Better yet, get involved! Volunteer! You can find out more about Stephen’s Place by visiting their Website: stephensplace.org or following them on Facebook: facebook.com/pages/Stephens-Place