Home Is Where the Heart Is

An old and familiar mid-nineteenth century proverb with its simple message has comforted families and friends for nearly two centuries. Its timeless missive has been framed and hung on walls in countless homes across the country for decades: home is where the heart is.

Today, the phrase accurately embodies the spirit of a faith-based community of adult men and women at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), which has been in the process of recent expansion and growth.

Located in a quiet suburb of the charming town of Tyler, Texas, the six existing contemporary homes and three recently constructed residences are where the hearts of more than sixty adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) have found a home.

BVT Newly built homes
Building more opportunities at BVT

Because of the unique situation of adults with IDD, people with this condition often live in systematic surroundings. As good and necessary as these institutions are, they are often not equipped to provide a traditional home setting and nurturing environment with all the physical, spiritual, and emotional advantages that BVT offers.

In 2002, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that individuals with Down Syndrome were living twice as long as they were only twenty years ago. Today, the chance of living a longer and healthier life, even when faced with disability, continues to increase. With a longer life comes the need for a more loving home, which BVT is able to provide.

Surrounded by beautiful groves of loblolly pines, red oaks and open fields of wild flowers, this small, rural community of specially designed homes and support facilities is the perfect setting for the residents and day-program participants BVT serves.

However, this peaceful setting is much more than the sum of its natural surroundings. As thoughtful and comforting as it is, the decades-old saying “home is where the heart is” serves as more than an aphorism about BVT, but also as the organization’s intended mission to empower each resident as he or she develops spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially in a safe, loving, and closely supervised environment.

BCFS President and CEO Kevin Dinnin explains, “We considered expansion for some time now, because we are aware of the great need. However, it wasn’t until Pierre de Wet’s trifecta occurred that things fell into place.  The trifecta in this case was three houses, three million dollars and three generous donors. When that happened, the expansion became a reality!”

The more than sixty adults who live at BVT prosper and thrive in ways that cannot be quantified by traditional metrics. The individuals BVT serves delight in using their God-given talents, and strive to improve in – every way possible – their daily lives. They celebrate each other’s successes and achievements with unabashed enthusiasm, in many ways resembling the support of a family – the original department of health, welfare and education.

“What sets BVT apart from other providers is, one, the faith-based component, and two, the exceptional staff and facilities that are rare among other facilities,” explains BVT Executive Director Steven Campbell. “This is not a job to our personnel; they have a unique gift and calling to serve this population, and it shows through the love, heart, and care they provide our residents each day. We have seen unique strengths and talents come out of particular members of our team through this process, which is even more proof why BVT is staffed with some of the best people around.”

Noting other differences between BVT and others who provide care for adults with IDD, Steven continues, “It is uncommon to find homes that offer all the amenities found at BVT, such as resident-specific bedrooms, in-house managers, spacious living areas, day-program opportunities, chapel services, and frequent recreational activities.”

Providing facilities to house, feed, teach, and care for the individuals at BVT without employing the customary institutional model requires unconventional thinking and imagining. RVK Architects and their team of designers captured BCFS President Kevin Dinnin’s requirement of a “home style” environment.

RVK Architects is the sole architectural firm for BVT’s specific brand of design and construction of each campus residence. Design and Project Manager Andrew Staskavage and his team have effectively woven a common thread throughout each phase of construction that captures the look, feel, and spirit of a cozy home setting, excelling in creating structures that resemble a family environment rather than an institutional atmosphere.

“I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with BCFS for over 20 years to design facilities that incorporate positive environmental and physical characteristics of spaces that enhance the quality of life for the residents of BVT,” Andrew explains. “To truly enhance the resident’s well-being, building design should move beyond optimizing single parameters to a more holistic approach that is responsive to behaviors and individual requirements, which offers them a freedom of choice and control over their environment.

“Designing for well-being and health includes a plethora of opportunities and a range of criteria: encourage the residents to be aware and engaged in daily activities, create interactive settings for social gatherings, and provide outdoor experiences to stimulate their senses.”

With BVT’s unique facilities, highly trained staff, and attention to each detail in every aspect of the campus, it is no wonder that BVT has developed a nationwide reputation as an ideal home for people living with IDD.

“When the expansion project was announced in 2015, 24 residents were on the BVT Interest List,” Steven recalls. “The news of recent growth has spurred a greater interest in BVT. Our Interest List now has grown to over 80. We have reached out to those on the waiting list to inform them of the projected timeline for their move to our facility, and the families and prospective residents are looking forward to calling BVT home.”

The magnitude of the residential expansion would have been a major distraction for any organization, especially for an assisted-care facility like BVT.

man working on BVT construction

“With any project of this scale, it is going to take a considerable amount of extra work to ensure the project is completed accurately, timely, and efficiently,” Steven says. “Our team has done a great job at handling the many aspects of an ongoing construction site while ensuring BVT’s normal operations are not interrupted.”

Throughout the fifteen-month, $3 million expansion project, BVT’s Facilities Maintenance Division has become very familiar with the various challenges generated on campus from the daily construction.

Brad Ezell, BVT’s Director of Facilities, was the on-site superintendent overseeing the project. Remarkably, Brad’s crew of one full-time and two part-time employees has successfully performed its initial responsibilities and effectively handled other unexpected challenges, not the least of which was the impact that Hurricane Harvey had one of the project’s most important contributors, the Texas Baptist Men (TBM).

The Texas Baptist Men are a faith-based team of retired construction workers that share ministry through volunteer service, and have been instrumental in progressing BVT’s expansion project (and many other BVT projects in the past). In the middle of the campus expansion, the TBM team sent many of its available volunteers to the Houston area to help rebuild the homes and churches damaged or destroyed by the Category 5 hurricane.

“The later start date and unforeseen weather, as well as holidays and previous commitments to other churches, all helped contribute to the need for us to reach out to other builders in the community,” Bradley says. “We asked for help from subcontractors willing to work with and follow behind volunteers.”

Grateful for the TBM volunteers who stayed to help complete one new home and portions of the other two, Brad searched for help from local contractors and found an eager group of vendors and subcontractors ready to participate in the expansion project, many with donations of labor and materials.

Several volunteers and workers building a new home
TBM Volunteers

“Although we had a group of TBM members and local volunteers here at all times, we did have to get support from sub-contractors to install the roof, and cornice and masonry work that were originally part of TBM’s scope of work,” Brad acknowledges. “We have been blessed to find companies willing to donate and or reduce cost to help with these items.”

During all these challenges, no one, especially not the generous supporters and benefactors to BVT, ever lost confidence that the three new homes would eventually become a reality. They knew that BVT provides the best opportunity for adults living with IDD to live dignified and productive lives – a place where the hearts and minds of those BVT serves would be given every opportunity to grow and live in a family-like environment.

Thanks to the coalescence of generosity from community members, the vision that Robert and Jean Breckenridge had of a faith-based home for adults living with intellectual or developmental disabilities grows today, providing peace of mind to families and a place for their loved ones to realize their potential, live through their hearts, and call “home.” Gary Gunn