Stephen’s Place – Family, Community, Home –
A genuine community to call home in Vancouver, Washington –
By John Krejcha –
When first entering through the double doors at Stephen’s Place, visitors are met with an inviting reception area, a high vaulted ceiling with open beams and a view of a stunning living area complete with a brick fireplace. With spacious rooms, wide hallways and tall ceilings, it’s a warm, vibrant and inviting atmosphere for guests, staff, and the residents who call Stephen’s Place their home.
Stephen’s Place is a supportive, not-for-profit Independent Apartment Community (IAC) in Vancouver, Washington, specifically designed to provide positive living solutions for adults with complex language, learning, and cognitive disabilities so they may live life with meaning and dignity to the fullest extent possible.
The two-story building and campus has 41 units and currently houses 11 residents, including five women and six men between ages 22 and 62. Apartments are different sizes depending on each resident’s need. There are studios and one bedroom apartments with small to full kitchens. Each apartment has its own restroom with accessible shower and a 24/7 monitoring system for independence and enhanced safety.
Stephen’s Place is completely private pay. The rent residents pay is based on apartment size and also includes meals, utilities, programs and caring staff.
Residents enjoy homemade daily meal services cooked by professional chefs who specialize in creating healthy delicious meals for those with dietary restrictions. Other amenities include a beautiful community dining area, a media and gaming room, gym, library, a private courtyard with screened-in porch and a custom-made greenhouse where residents participate in gardening and growing their own food.
The first vision for this community residence happened over a decade ago, in 2005, when Wayne and Joan Kuni, founders of Kuni Automotive were considering semi-independent living options for their adult son with a developmental disability. They wanted their son to have community, independence and friends in a safe and supportive environment where he could live happily and age in place with support.
Their nationwide search brought them to an IAC called Casa De Amma in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Although the living space was impressive, the community was already filled to capacity with a long waiting list. The idea of creating this type of community residence closer to their home in the Pacific Northwest seemed like a huge undertaking, but the Kuni’s knew that it would be life changing and transforming for families seeking a better life for their sons and daughters with developmental disabilities.
In November 2005, the Kuni’s established the Wayne D. Kuni and Joan E. Kuni Foundation. The mission of this private foundation is twofold: to support medical research, especially for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and to support and enhance the lives of adults with developmental disabilities. Finding a safe, easily accessible, friendly neighborhood location convenient to Portland and downtown Vancouver took some time, but it was worth the wait. Their vision came true when the doors for Stephen’s Place opened in February 2015. The community is named after one of the Kuni family sons, who passed away as a young adult. Their other son is living there today and has the honor of being the first founding resident.
Heather Stenberg, Executive Director of Stephen’s Place, talks about the Independent Apartment Community (IAC) model. “An IAC is just as it sounds; a program that supports independence as much as possible. We have apartments where residents have privacy in their bedrooms and bathrooms and offer a community where residents aren’t isolated or alone. Each resident has a unique set of goals and a schedule which includes a wide range of activities as well as jobs and volunteering.”
Stephen’s Place has 24-hour support including medical and is designed intentionally for residents to be able to age in place if they choose. Heather explains, “Our vision for Stephen’s Place is that each resident can live with us through the end of life. We understand there may be some instances where that goal is not realistic, but hope that our vision and goals for the growth of Stephen’s Place after we are full can provide solutions where Stephen’s Place still fully supports those residents.”
Heather was asked about some of the differences between other assisted living options and Stephen’s Place. She explained, “Many options provided to those in the Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) community are not as specific to the individual and don’t offer privacy in the living setting (e.g. sharing a bedroom or bathroom, no doors on rooms, etc.)”
“What is many times considered the ideal for the I/DD population is to live in an apartment community among those who don’t have I/DD. In reality, this can be isolating and lonely for many. At Stephen’s Place, community represents having a peer group, social opportunities that provide the ability to naturally grow friendships, and support that can often be overlooked in the greater community. Our goal is to provide a home and individualized support to assist each resident to live their fullest life, and we believe in relationship-based care because this gives us a deeper understanding of each of our resident’s needs.”
This is a feeling that the residents share as well. Ellen, a long-time resident, shares, “I like living at Stephen’s Place. My parents took good care of me, and now the staff does as well. I like playing cards with my friends here and all of the activities I can do.”
Another resident, Sandy shares, “I like to walk around and talk to my friends who live here. I like to do the gardening. I like it when people come and visit.”
For both residents and staff, Stephen’s Place is more than just a housing option. Meal time is like sitting down with family.
Liz expresses, “I feel so loved! I have friends, and it’s safe.” She is good friends with Michael, another long-time resident who adds, “I am happier than I was at my own home. This is a great place to live if you want to be independent.”
Stephen’s Place provides very intentional programming for their residents which allows them to experience independence in a dynamic way. Each resident goes through a person-centered planning process which includes personalized plans for Fitness & Movement, Music & Creative, Life Skills, Job Coaching and Volunteer Opportunities.
Stephen’s Place also has a comprehensive, full-day program available for residents and non-resident guests to attend each Monday and Thursday. The day program was started originally for the residents but has been opened up for other local adults with developmental disabilities to attend for a nominal fee.
Heather explains, “We want to provide adults with developmental disabilities in our community the opportunity for additional friendships, peer relationships and access to community activities. This also gives families access to respite time while their loved ones participate in physical, social and creative activities. The people who take part in the day program can build off things that interest them, explore new opportunities and many times discover a new passion.”
That also includes special events and gatherings hosted by local nonprofits and community groups. Heather shares, “Stephen’s Place was a gift to the community from the Kuni family, and it would be a shame not to share it with the whole community. We are all family here, and family opens up their home to other family members.”
In December 2016, the Autism Serves Kids Care Club, a youth volunteerism program of local Vancouver-based nonprofit, Autism Empowerment (AE), participated in holiday caroling. In April 2017, Stephen’s Place became the new home for AE’s monthly support group for adults on the autism spectrum, and in May, AE’s Autism “Rocks” group hosted a community-wide rock painting party for residents and guests.
Other groups use their conference room for meetings and on June 3rd, 2017, a Vancouver-based support group, Special Celebrations rolled out the red carpet with a fancy all-abilities prom for teens and adults.
“At the end of the day, the favorite programs for most of our residents are social opportunities to hang out with their peers, to talk about their days, and to enjoy each other’s company. It is comforting to see that the relationships that have developed grow and are not forced due to proximity.”
There are many plans for the future as well. Heather shares, “We have lots of ideas but nothing written in stone yet. We have talked about building a trail on the property, maybe independent cottages for even greater independence or a separate activities building. As our community grows, we will see what their needs are and try to match those needs.”
The sense of home is something that can be seen and felt when you first walk through the doors. It doesn’t matter if you are a resident, staff member, day program participant or an organization partner, one thing is for sure, you are family.
Stephen’s Place is currently accepting new resident applications and welcomes prospective families to take a tour. Regarding growth, Heather explains, “The intention is to add residents slowly. We know when you add somebody new, it will change the dynamics of the group. By adding people slowly, we can help each of the current residents with that transition. We want each person to be part of the community and part of the Stephen’s Place family.”
Please note that for the privacy of Stephen’s Place residents, some names have been changed. This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 print edition of Spectrums Magazine which can also be read online at this website or through Issuu.
To learn more about Stephen’s Place and/or to schedule a tour:
Please visit us online at: www.StephensPlace.org
Visit us in-person: 501 SE Ellsworth Road, Vancouver, WA 98684
Call us: (360) 984-3600