By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
There was the mayor whose authoritative posture and conversation indicated his authority. There was the hipster who is maybe a NASA engineer or a surgeon or working with a high-profile law firm. Included in the village was the busy executive who brushed by in a rush to her duties then turned and realized she had forgotten to say hello.
The friendly neighbor who will watch over your house and pets while you are gone stopped to wave and say hello. The skater/surfer — who mostly wants to enjoy life and can repair your roof or appliances — hung around to chat.
They were all there, all the members that make up a village were emerging from their day’s activities in the community building. Excitement was in the air as they stopped to share their thoughts and greetings with Sharon Proulx, Executive Director of Hope Village and Samra Smith, Director of Community Development.
Once they were cute, adorable children with special needs, mostly with cognitive challenges. The men and women living in Hope Village are no longer bearing their cute young self. They are now fully developed adults ranging in ages from their 20’s all the way up the senior villager, who is 87 years old.
They have cast off their childhood faces and bodies, but they all retained the intellectual abilities of a child. Many of them have they retained their smiles. Though they are living with the mind of a child, each villager has a distinct personality; some are more engaging with strangers. Others prefer to be left to themselves.
There is no mistaking, regardless of their specific medical diagnosis, they are unique individuals with character traits very similar to those encountered in people who are not encumbered with cognitive difficulties.
Hope Village sits on 19 acres of land in Friendswood. The founders had their own child with challenges and thus was born Hope Village. Fifty years ago, they created a future for their child and others to live as independent but cared for a life as possible with their peers.
All aspects of a town are contained within Hope Village. There is a recreation center, a swimming pool, houses, administrative buildings, a community building, and lots of green space with trees towering over the citizens of the village.
Villagers live in one of the five houses on the grounds. Each home is staffed around the clock. A house manager coordinates the needs of the residents in the daytime hours and other staff step in for the nighttime shift.
The living needs of the villagers are all contained within their home, which includes laundry, kitchens, a television area, and their sleeping areas. The villagers do not wash their own clothes, as that was tried and didn’t work way back a long time ago. They do put their own clothing away on hangers and in drawers. The more abled ones help the less abled ones.
Most villagers share a room with someone else. Males are in one wing of the house with females in another wing. Within their homes, each villager is assigned a task based on their abilities, for instance one might be responsible for sweeping.
Some residents are only part-time villagers which means they come in for daytime activities and go to another place for sleeping. Usually, they are still living with family.
Tuition is kept to just $1,675 a month per resident. This is possible because the founders put together an endowment fund and declared that all future villagers would receive supplements to cover the cost of their residency, which is right around $3,500 a month. The founders even provided for day residence to be allowed to attend at a relatively low cost per month.
Each family who has made the choice to find a living place for their loved one is required to go through an application process to help establish the suitability of Hope Village to the personality and needs of the possible future resident. This process includes a trial of about three nights spent at the village. Many of the current villagers started off in the day program.
One of the villagers’ favorite recreation activities is their regular trip to a bowling alley. “They love bowling,” shared Proulx. Other activities the villagers enjoy are the clubs that they attend which range from a club where villagers can learn makeup and hairstyle tricks along with other feminine type activities to a music club, which tends to be very popular.
Once upon a time the village had a lot more club options, but the clubs were dependent on volunteers. Then came that ugly nasty period when volunteering at facilities was cut way back. Hope Village went from 60 volunteers pre-pandemic to just 10 at this time.
If you are looking to be engaged in a meaningful volunteer role, the staff at Hope Village would love to hear from you.
Running the facility takes staff that have a real heart for what they are doing, as Smith explained. She started in the field as a high school volunteer. Smith and Proulx are given rewards for their work beyond a paycheck. They are greeted with smiles, sharing of villagers’ daily activities and big hugs by villagers
There were 7.39 million people with cognitive challenges in the United States in 2019. Not all will need full-time residence options, but some will. Parents who are aging or just know their loved one would be happier in an environment with their peers, can turn to facilities such as Hope Village.
Placing a family member in a living place is not an easy decision, and not all locations will be able to meet the individual needs of all people. Preparing for a family member who might need to live in a managed living space, is something that should be done sooner rather than later so that the family can be assured their loved one is at a place suits their unique personality.
At Hope Village, most of their villagers have been with them many years. The senior resident has been at the village longer than the executive director, who is on her 35th year as a staff member.
If you are interested in volunteering, have a loved one who needs a place to live or would like to help with fund raising you are invited to reach out at 281-482-7926 or firstname.lastname@example.org