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Camphill Communities - building connections through meaningful work

Intentional communities that care for people with developmental disabilities in an atmosphere of dignity and mutual respect. They successfully de-emphasize categories such as able and disabled by providing opportunities for everyone to contribute.

Photo of Delia Kulukundis
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Community Life

There is a network of Camphill Communities worldwide, which all follow a similar philosophy, but each is run independently. Some of the common aspects:

-household life: residents live in houses with long-term caregivers (known as "coworkers") and their families, as well as short term coworkers (often young people on a gap year). Some residents who are more independent may live in apartments with occasional support.

-meaningful work: everyone pitches in to maintain the community, sharing tasks that might include housework, cooking, and growing food.

-individual expression: most communities have programs that involve artistic expression, such as theater, visual art, and traditional crafts. One such community that I visited (Camphill Callan, Ireland) has an amazing visual arts and theater program, which offers classes and studio space to artists, including those with disabilities.

To me, the meaningful work and artistic expression aspects seem incredibly effective, and worth trying to replicate - giving a sense of purpose and value to one's time, and building friendships across categories. There is a sense that people are working on projects that they are actually invested in, and disabled artists are taken as seriously as the non-disabled artists who visit and participate. This is evident in the quality and quantity of art and theater being made there!

Camphill and elders

Camphill communities have traditionally focused on adults and children with developmental disabilities, but many communities also include elderly and aging residents. Camphill Ghent (in Chatham, NY) has recently opened with the mission of caring for elders (including but not limited to those with disabilities).  It aims to make "aging in place" possible by providing a variety of housing types on the campus.   The adult home provides 24-hour attention and operates in a similar household format as other Camphill communities, but there is also a cluster of townhouses and cohouses where more independent residents (55+) may live alone or with others, and can opt to receive more focused in-home care if their needs increase. The cohousing-type model is intended to help residents informally care for each other, and the as-needed care model is intended to be minimally intrusive, and helps reduce the need for moving at an advanced age.  

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Love this, Delia. Shared purpose seems like such a great motivator. Hoping to see this feature in many submissions for our upcoming Ideas phase!