When someone loses their housing and ends up on the streets, can’t get appropriate treatment for mental illness, loses their battle against addiction, or can’t figure out how to reenter the community after being incarcerated, we all suffer. When someone receives the help they need to move off these negative paths and onto a more abundant life, we all benefit.
The dream of starting PraeSpero Farms began with Colleen, Pat, and others who struggle to find the help they need. Talking and walking alongside them when they ended up in prisons, hospitals, and substance use treatment facilities highlighted the ways that current programs and services can fall short of truly providing the support needed for long-term recovery and lasting change.(Read Sarah’s Story)
The PraeSpero model is inspired by the Dismas Family Farm (run by the Dismas House of Worcester, MA), as well as other, similar programs that do amazing work but are too few in number to meet the tremendous need.
Imagine a small, working family farm – goats, chickens, corn, squash. Now, imagine you’ve been homeless, in and out of jail and rehab, and every time you enter a detox program you find yourself back on the street a few short weeks later with no help and no support. Imagine one day you get the chance to enter a new, long-term residential care program on a farm. Imagine driving some hours away from the city, and seeing the farm for the first time – and being welcomed into a new home, with hope for a better future.
Each day, residents on PraeSpero Farm find healing and purpose in dirt therapy, animal therapy, and creative therapy. They learn practical skills like gardening, animal care, cooking, and maintenance as they take on responsibilities of the farm. They work with case managers to define and follow a personal plan that will help them achieve concrete recovery goals most important to them – whether related to substance use, physical health, family reconciliation, or other expressed needs. They are connected with a network of partner service providers and community organizations to make this plan a reality – perhaps attending local support group meetings, volunteering at an animal shelter, or training to be peer mentors or recovery coaches. They forge relationships with their neighbors in the broader community by planting trees, participating in local events along with their farm-family, or even just helping the folks next door shovel their walk. When they are ready to leave the farm, they have the skills and connections they need to keep moving forward, along with the knowledge that there is a supportive community ready to cheer on their successes and offer a hand should they stumble.
Our Approach and Core Principles
I. Build a stable, nurturing environment
It is often too easy to ignore problems that do not directly touch our lives. Colleen and Pat opened my eyes to the constant frustration and humiliation faced by those on the fringes of society. I could have easily passed them on the streets and thought nothing of it, but if I had, I would have missed out on getting to know two wonderful individuals. Colleen and Pat were stuck in survival mode, and even though they were both gifted and interesting people, they had nothing left to contribute to the community. One of the lessons at the heart of PraeSpero Farms is: Our community is stronger when we value and care for each other as neighbors.
- will value and respect the unique lives, abilities and potential of all residents.
- will build a team and an organization that takes a compassionate and holistic approach to reaching out to those who are most vulnerable, isolated, and existing on the fringes of society.
- will build a supportive, inclusive family atmosphere which extends beyond the boundaries of the farm itself.
- will help and support residents in identifying and overcoming the internal and external obstacles that prevent them from being positive contributors and good neighbors in their community.
II. Invest deeply in a small number of people
Colleen wanted to get and stay sober. She would admit herself and be sent to a detox program or psychiatric ward (depending on availability), where insurance would pay for her to stay for 3-7 days. During her short detox stay, we worked with the program staff to try to create an aftercare plan and find a placement that would take her to the next steps of her recovery, but there was never a post-detox bed available. Each time she wound up back on the street, often worse off and more vulnerable to overdoses, feeling like her efforts to pursue recovery were in vain. During the last 137 days of her life, Colleen spent 92 of them in institutions. She had 11 visits to emergency rooms, 4 stays in psychiatric wards, 4 stays in dual diagnosis detox programs, 2 stays in jail, and at least 6 overdoses.
It was a shocking wake-up call to see the tremendously inefficient use of resources that happens when a system is too-focused on providing short-term, emergency-centric solutions for long-term problems. Adding up just the medical bills from Colleen’s detox programs and hospital visits, I realized the state could have supported both of us, and even paid me a full-time salary as her caretaker, for significantly less. The inescapable cycle on and off the streets was costly, inefficient and ultimately ineffective – but it was the only option we had. PraeSpero Farms fills a critical gap by providing a place for those who need longer-term support.
- will provide an opportunity for people trying to escape the revolving door culture of short-term hospital stays and detox programs and navigate their way to long-term recovery.
- will invest greatly in a few people with complex needs that require a long-term supportive environment, freeing up beds and desperately needed resources for those who will benefit most from existing short-term acute care programs.
- will strive for deep, lasting, and far-reaching impacts in the lives of our residents, valuing permanent solutions over quick fixes.
- will strive for deep, lasting, and far-reaching impacts in our state and community by helping residents achieve stability and independence, thereby reducing the number of future relapses, hospital admissions and nights in jail.
III. Focus on individually tailored plans for recovery and reintegration in coordination with a broad network of partners
When I talked with Colleen about the dream of PraeSpero farm, she described how much she wished she could work with people who knew her, who understood her immediate needs and could help her deal with obstacles as she tried to reach long-term recovery goals. Pat was frustrated at having to constantly switch case managers when moving from one short-term program to another, making it more difficult to follow through on a long-term plan.
They desired stability and consistency during the confusing and stressful process of recovery. They wanted a place where they could stay until they were ready and prepared to move on to a positive next step, confident that they had the skills and support network needed to help them succeed.
- will do what is effective, courageous, and compassionate, offering every resident opportunities to improve skills, gain new purpose, explore their passions, and find a home.
- will integrate evidence-based program components, professional expertise, and individualized responses in order to build effective, sustainable plans for recovery.
- will recognize the complex interplay of homelessness, mental illness, substance use disorders, and incarceration and understand that each individual path and recovery plan will be unique.
- will provide on-site case management and coordinated short-term and long-term planning to assist residents in achieving their goals and developing their skills and passions to make positive contributions to their communities.
IV. Grow an operationally and financially thriving organization to ensure the long-term sustainability of the program
Both Colleen and Pat had families that loved them deeply and wanted to see them get sober and stable. However, they needed a different kind of help than I or their families could offer at the time. One of the most painful feelings I’ve ever experienced is watching someone I love suffer and knowing that I cannot provide the help they need.
With PraeSpero Farms, I want to offer people hope – not in a vague sense, but in tangible ways. We will help residents set goals and then support and equip them to achieve those goals. I want to walk with people who are on the outskirts of society and help them navigate to a meaningful and productive life.
- will embody the notion that a healthy community depends on healthy individuals, and healthy individuals depend on a healthy community – and as such, will strive to not only serve the residents, but also be a good employer and neighbor, making a positive difference in the town and state.
- will be financially sustainable, seeking to reduce reliance on grants and donations over the long term, and to diversify our revenue by selling products made and grown on the farm and exploring other ventures according to the skills and interests of the resident community.
- will be good stewards of our resources and the environment, making choices that benefit the farm, community, and planet, and implementing eco-conscious practices and technologies in the farm and program operations to the greatest practical extent.
While we have a clear vision of the path ahead, we have many months of work ahead to make PraeSpero Farms a reality. We hope you will join us on this journey, and walk with us as you are able. (Join Us)