Vine Village is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides positive lifestyle choices to people with intellectual challenges. Located on a beautiful 25-acre ranch just outside the city limits of Napa, California, we recognize that everyone needs balance in their lives between their needs for support and independence, and between the need for safety and belonging, and the need to explore, even to take risks to try new things. We believe that people with developmental disabilities are citizens with the same rights and privileges as any other citizen - roles they can and should assume with support . Our programs address those needs by emphasizing personal development, social interaction, independence and the security of knowing he or she is accepted and valued. People with special needs may participate in Vine Village through one of two programs: Residential and the Vine Village Day Program for the Arts and Agriculture.
Vine Village was founded in 1973 by George and Grace Kerson and Dante Bagnani, two families with developmentally disabled children. The Kerson and Bagnani families wanted an alternative to the isolation of "independent living," to the rigidity and de-personalization of large institutions, and the insecurity and constant staff turnover which characterize many small group and supported living living situations. They wanted more vocational options, which reflect community values as well as individual differences and interests. Although recognizing that it is important for one's home to provide a foundation of acceptance and safety, the Kersons and Mr. Bagnani did not want an isolated program that kept people separate from the greater community. For this reason, the location of the property chosen was considered ideal, as it allowed easy access to full participation in the greater community.In short, they wanted their children with special needs to have the same quality of life as their non-handicapped peers.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, George and Grace Kerson's daughter, Debbie, was getting ready to graduate from St. Vincent's School in Santa Barbara, CA, and they were concerned by the paucity of choices for her as a young adult. During this time they visited Camphill Village in New York, The Lambs in Chicago, and various kibbutzim in Israel. These experiences got them thinking about creating new opportunities for Debbie and others like her. They wanted Debbie to have every opportunity and encouragement to continue to grow and learn, and they wanted her to feel safe, secure, and valued. They envisioned a residential program that would encourage continual learning and the development of as much independence as much as possible for the individual, while also providing needed support and assistance. They wanted a True Home with close family-like human relationships. They wanted opportunities to feel valued and useful, and to perform meaningful and relevant work, regardless of an individual's abilities or disabilities. Most of all, they wanted an atmosphere of Respect and Dignity for all individuals. Since Debbie was an ardent horse buff, they also wanted a place in the country where horses and similar pets could be kept.
In the early 1970's, there were only a couple of choices for a person with developmental disabilities. There was the State Hospital, there were a few scattered private institutions modeled after the State Hospital in many ways, and there was living at home. ( This was the early days of the Lanterman Act, and Group Homes were just starting to be created, but the Kersons and Bagnanis did not choose these for their children.)
The State Hospital was out of the question for the Kersons. Having Debbie live at home into her adult years was also undesirable, because it would keep Debbie forever in "Little Kid" mode, maintaining old patterns of dependency and lack of autonomy.
Even more so, the Kersons and Mr. Bagnani recognized that no one lives forever, and the day would come that they would not be able to take care of their children. A move later in life, especially a sudden on in response to a family emergency, would be traumatic.
The Kersons wanted to be proactive. They wanted moving out to be a positive step that Debbie could view proudly as a milestone of growing up, just as her older brothers had moved out on their own when they became young adults. Dante Bagnani was a like-minded friend. One night in the autumn of 1972, George presented his ideas to Dante. Without a moment's hesitation, Dante replied, "Let's do it!"
A country property within a mile of the Napa city limits was purchased in 1972, and papers were filed for non-profit status, which was finalized the next year. After a difficult legal battle to obtain a use permit (with neighbors who opposed having people with special needs in their neighborhood - (remember, this was the early 1970's), the first house opened to 6 residents, and the second home followed in August of that year.
The Kerson's son, Michael, and his wife, Nancy, have continuously directed Vine Village's growth and progress since 1973. Their daughter, Saanen, joined the staff in 2007.
Vine Village is a lively, vibrant program that changes and grows with the times. And yet the basic values of respect and personal choice have remained the same.
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