There are many advantages to rural life: peace and quiet; a lack of traffic jams; vast, open spaces and being close with nature. For one man with a developmental disability, life on a ranch in rural Arizona is his salvation.
Neil, a personable middle-aged man, is a member of the Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). DDD contracts with agencies throughout the state to provide a variety of residential options and services to its members. Intermountain Centers for Human Development (ICHD) is one such agency. ICHD offers DDD members in Yavapai County a choice of group homes. It also contracts with families who are willing to open their homes to DDD members who need supervision and assistance with skill development. Bob and Donna Cowper are one of the special families who hold a DDD license to operate an adult developmental home.
Developmental homes are like any family home. As licensed providers, the Cowpers are available to offer assistance to their DDD residents on a 24-hour basis. They also provide skill development and guidance with everyday tasks, such as meal preparation, cleaning, hygiene and self-help.
The Cowpers’ home brings to mind the lyrics to the song, “Home on the Range.” In addition to the natural wildlife -- including deer, antelope and prairie dogs -- there are free-range cattle and most importantly, chickens. And for Neil, the Cowpers’ log home, set on 30 acres in northwestern Arizona, offers an enriching lifestyle.
Ali Schroeder, ICHD Regional Director in Yavapai County, recalled how this off-the-grid lifestyle became the solution to some behavioral issues. Schroder described Neil and former group home resident as “a frustrated man, with a lot of behaviors due to others ‘getting on his nerves.’” The solution: the serenity of a rural lifestyle with fewer residents in the home.
“This rural life proved to be his sanctuary!” said Schroder.
After Neil and another DDD member moved in, the Cowpers looked for a project to keep their residents occupied. One day, the couple took the two men shopping at a farm store. Over the next few weeks, the extended family would bring home shoe boxes full of day-old chicks and ducks. “All of a sudden, we ended up with 50 chickens,” said Bob.
Caring for the flock is Neil’s job; a job that works like a tonic for anxiety and stress. “It’s become something that he’s responsible for. It gives him a purpose and bragging rights,” explained Donna.
Every day, Neil feeds the chickens, fills their water container and gathers the eggs. He also helps work on tractors and builds things. As a result, he has not had any aggressive behaviors since moving in with the Cowpers in 2015.
In addition to creating a safe, stress-free living environment, the Cowpers help their DDD- member residents develop and build their socialization skills by providing opportunities for community and social interaction.
“We take them every place we go,” said Donna. “They know all of our friends. They do all of our things and we do all of their things.”
“Their things” include activities the Cowpers never did before. “We get involved with the things they like,” said Donna. “We’ve taken them to see fireworks, the Harlem Globe Trotters. We go to all the rodeos; we go to car shows a lot.”
How is this arrangement working out for the Cowpers?
“We’re empty nesters,” said Donna. The arrangement “has worked out perfect for us. [It’s] nice to have somebody to keep us active.”
For information on becoming an adult developmental home provider, please visit the DDD Developmental Home Licensing page on the DES website.