by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from Bonus Years in the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday, November 10, 2019
Last week it was my privilege to get to know Bobby Villares, age 62, and his son, Gabe, age 24 – and to learn about Langton Green, a hidden jewel in our community.
First, the people. Gabe is on the autism spectrum and lives at home with his parents, where his retired father is also his primary caretaker.
Because Gabe has low-functioning autism, he participates in ongoing behavioral and other therapies to learn – both how to engage with others and to develop skills to help him perform activities of daily living. The purpose: to increase his safety, independence and psychological stability.
Maria Isabel Villanueva, Bobby’s wife of 25 years, is a hospitalist – i.e., a physician devoted to the primary medical care of patients in a hospital. Dr. Villanueva has responsibilities in several area hospitals, including Anne Arundel Medical Center.
The Villares family also includes a second son, Miguel, age 21, who is studying computer science at the University of Maryland.
Bobby Villares is a remarkable man and father. Now retired, he spends full time taking care of Gabe. First and foremost, this includes helping Gabe with preparing meals, shopping, and other activities of daily living.
In addition, Bobby’s caretaking includes orchestrating ongoing therapies by professionals to give Gabe every opportunity to make the most of his limited capacity for mobility, learning, and engaging with others in work that is meaningful and satisfying.
Villares explained, “We found out Gabe was on the autism spectrum at age three. That changed everything.”
A man of deep faith, Villares said, “All parents want their children to finish school, find work, get married and have a family. However, because of Gabe’s challenges, he won’t travel that path. Still, he’s our son and we love him.”
Villares continued, “God gives us children to take care of. It’s often difficult, but he doesn’t abandon us. He provides. As Gabe’s parents, it’s our duty and privilege to help him in every way we can and encourage him on the path God has given him.”
Villares also expressed deep appreciation for the many medical and social services that are available in this region to help families with children having intellectual or developmental disabilities.
In Villares’ words, “Gabe could not have the therapies nor the quality of life he enjoys without federal and state safety net programs such as Social Security disability and Medicaid. But one of the most important for us has been Langton Green – and especially their 13-acre farm down the road in Millersville.”
Bobby takes Gabe to the farm two or three times a week to do volunteer work such as watering shrubs or moving plants on trays from one area to another. Gabe has friends at the farm who also have intellectual and developmental disabilities. They help each other and take pride in the work they do on the farm and off, such as collecting soda cans for recycling.
“I’m so thankful for a place where Gabe can go and be himself and be accepted by everyone.”
Bobby, too, is a volunteer at the farm where he works as a carpenter and a jack of all trades, fix-it guy. Recent projects included helping to install a new fence and gate.
“Every time I go to the farm, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see that gate standing there, knowing I helped build it,” says Bobby.
When I talked to Kim Breton, the executive director at Langton Green, she explained that the farm, launched in 2004, offers vocational training and work opportunities for intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals who are part of the Langton Green program.
Breton said, “At the Langton Green Community Farm our clients can literally touch the earth and experience what it’s like to cultivate food. As we encourage independence and offer support, we like to say, ‘Come grow with us.’”
Langton Green was founded in 1982, when parents of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities came together to secure land for one of Maryland’s first apartment complexes for their own disabled children.
The first apartment complex opened in 1984. It included several adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who left home to join the Langton Green family as well as individuals who were leaving state institutions. For many, congregate living at Langton Green was their first experience of living as independently as possible.
Today, Langton Green serves the needs of a community of more than 110 individuals in more than 30 residences, mostly located in Anne Arundel County. Its annual budget is provided primarily by government programs at the federal and state levels. Private donations from individuals, foundations and other civic groups support necessities and quality of life opportunities not otherwise provided.
As I listened to Villares and Breton, I thought of psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, who wrote in his landmark book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, that there are three main paths to secure meaning in life:
- The first is by work – e.g., creating something or doing a deed.
- The second is by a relationship –i.e., experiencing something or encountering someone – in Frankl’s words, “meaning can be found not only in work but also in love”.
- The third is transcendence – i.e., rising above yourself, growing beyond yourself and by so doing change yourself – “and it works even for the helpless victim of a hopeless situation”.
That says it. That’s what Langton Green Farm does for Gabe and his friends with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities: It provides work. It fosters vital relationships among individuals with severe disabilities as they work together to grow things. And it provides transcendence as the delights of growing things and witnessing growth have long been among the many attractions of gardening.
Bobby’s story is also instructive, for there are many diverse opportunities for retired adults to volunteer at Langton Green or the Farm – including landscaping, business planning for renovations, or watching a basketball game or playing cards with residents.
The story of Bobby and son Gabe and philosophies like those that drive Langton Green provide hope that we can meet the ongoing challenges of intellectual and developmental disability.
For more information on Langton Green, visit: LangtonGreen.org