Editor’s Note: As part of our Year In Review 2016 series, we’re re-publishing a few stories that were among our very favorite to write (and/or read) during the past year.
We’ll close out on Friday with our favorite photos from 2016.
Jessie’s Ranch A Reach Back In The Past To Benefit Douglas County’s Future
by Joey Crandall, firstname.lastname@example.org · 12 min read, Published Nov. 30, 2016
MINDEN, Nev. — There is a length of chain hanging atop the fence at the old Seeman Ranch property off Buckeye Road in Minden.
Like many obscure nooks and crannies of Carson Valley lore, it’s at best a mere afterthought to most.
But its history is rich, its meaning significant.
Brothers Dean and Harley Seeman spent a golden summer of their childhood chasing that big old chain.
They’d spotted it underwater, dipping in the (long since filled) swimming hole off the old power dam south of Gardnerville, and knew in an instant it would be theirs.
“They had a plan,” said Seeman Foundation trustee Judy Keele. “Every day they’d go out there with a set of metal files and just work away at it.”
Dean and Harley took turns holding their breath, going under water and sawing at the thick metal links.
“They cut it off under water and snuck it home in the middle of the night,” Keele said. “It took them an entire summer. They were so proud of that chain.”
There’s just something about that chain, a rusty artifact of contraband hanging in a place of untold honor between brothers.
It was a plain strike of chance that they found it in the first place, under the waters of the Carson River.
There was considerable time elapsed – not to mention the deliberate, multi-faceted planning that followed.
And then there was the dogged pursuit, contained within the immeasurable work that went into obtaining it and bringing it back home.
There was just something about that chain.
Steve Decker came to Carson Valley at the close of the summer of 2014.
He was hired as the Executive Director for the Family Support Council of Douglas County with a wide and varied background ranging anywhere from developmental disability care and caretaker training to non-profit management and information technology.
While the Family Support Council had made significant in-roads in the areas of family violence prevention and advocacy, a “bucket list” outreach for the Council became delving into assistance for the developmentally disabled within the community.
“Stopping family violence is our big thing,” Decker said. “But certain populations are more at risk to be victims of domestic violence than others.
“People with a developmental disability are six times more likely to have violence in their home. By serving this population, we could start getting ahead of this violence.”
The problem was that the idea, though grand, had no functional support to build that bridge just yet.
“Dean Seeman was the perfect dictionary version of a curmudgeon,” said Seeman Foundation Trustee Judy Keele. “Many people didn’t like him. But they also didn’t get to see him, who he really was and what he did.”
Dean and Harley had two younger sisters – Doreen and the youngest, Joyce, whom Dean called “Jessie.” Jessie was born with Down Syndrome.
Keele first came to know the Seemans through her husband George’s law practice.
“Dean’s grandparents actually sold the land where the Carson Valley Inn was built,” Keele said. “When they died, George worked for Dean’s parents on some legal issues, and when Dean’s parents died, Dean came to George because he didn’t know what to do next.
“We befriended him over time. We did some Secret Santa types of things for Jessie and Dean and it evolved into a friendship. He was sad, and he needed help with taking care of Jessie. George helped him make arrangements to get Jessie the care she needed.”
As it continues to be today, there was no in-community individualized service system for the developmentally disabled to gain the support they needed to live a life of their own as an adult.
Outside of staying with family, or going to an out-of-area home upon aging out of the school district system, there weren’t any other options available.
Something Dean often talked about was trying to set up such a service, though it didn’t come to fruition during Jessie’s lifetime.
She lived to the age of 57.
“It was really due to Dean’s great care of her,” Keele said. “People with Down Syndrome don’t tend to live that long due to the long-term medical issues, heart and eye weakness that often accompanies Down Syndrome. He loved Jessie and he and his sister Doreen took tremendous care of her.
“He gave up his life, stayed on the ranch, so that she would have care. It was a remarkable thing.”
That caretaker’s heart helped form a special connection between Seeman and Keele.
“I was a speech therapist,” Keele said. “They used to bus children with Down Syndrome from Carson City out here to do therapy with me once a week. Once a week wasn’t nearly enough, but it was something. Through that time I really developed a soft spot for caretakers.
“These families have an incredible emotional load to carry, not just the heartache that comes with having a disabled child, but also they often have to be the caretakers when the child reaches adulthood, and then they have to worry about what happens to the child when the caretaker is gone.”
After Jessie passed away, Dean was intent on setting up a foundation that would benefit children and families dealing with developmental disabilities. The Keele’s were able to direct him to an attorney in Reno to handle the setting up Dean’s foundation.
Seeman asked Judy Keele to serve as trustee of the trust and also to serve on the board of his foundation once it was established.
Dean died in 2008, and the foundation was formed in 2010.
“We got started just making little gifts to the Douglas Animal Welfare Group and Austin’s House,” Keele said. “Anything involving children or animals was very important to Dean.
“I was really beating the bushes trying to find enough people to give money to, because there really was nothing along the lines of what Dean and I had talked about doing for the developmentally disabled.
“And, as the foundation, we could only gift the money to 501c3 organizations. I couldn’t use it to actually set up and run what we had talked about. I needed a vehicle to be able to put the money in.”
Decker and Keele first crossed paths as Decker was conducting a training for directors and board members of non-profits.
“Judy came in and started talking about the Seeman Foundation, and how it was geared toward helping people with developmental disabilities,” Decker said. “The problem was, there were no non-profits in Douglas County serving adults with developmental disabilities.”
Decker brought up his background and that long-term vision for the Family Support Council branching out to assist adults with disabilities.
So the idea for Jessie’s Ranch, an effort to provide day programs and living support to disabled adults, began to take form.
“Something incredible, really spiritual, happened,” Keele said. “It was as if you could see God’s hand piecing the whole thing together. I needed somewhere to direct the money, and Steve had a vision to do exactly what I had hoped to do with it.”
The Seeman Foundation put forth an initial $101,000 at the close of 2015, which got the ball rolling.
This past August, it came through with another $201,000, which Decker said has been put toward training and start-up costs.
Jessie’s Ranch has brought on its first employees and they should be finish a two-month training for domestic violence prevention and response, family resources, CPR and first aid within the next month.
“We should end our fiscal year in June with 15 full-time employees,” Decker said. “Some things to understand: Douglas County residents right now already pay for many of these services through Medicaid, but the money is going to for-profit organizations and often going out of the county because there was no one local to provide the services.
“There are several dozen Northern Nevadans living in a group home in Utah, more in Texas, some in Reno and Carson, and others in Las Vegas.
This is a chance to bring them back home.
“With what we are doing, and what we are building, we will be the first resource in Nevada qualified to provide direct one-on-one support to adults with disabilities. People get to be individuals, get to say what they want to do with their lives. They can’t do that in a group environment. They have to do what the group does.
“With this type of one-on-one service, adults with such disabilities can move away from a segregated model. Our belief is that any integrated model is going to do best. You can’t have a healthy community if you have locked away some of your community.”
Decker said that by the end of the year, he hopes Jessie’s Ranch will be able to accommodate 10 people.
Keele said the ultimate hope is not just to have the program be independent and self-sustaining, but to house it on the old Seeman Ranch off Buckeye.
“That’s the incredible thing about how Steve is approaching this,” she said. “He is designing this to eventually be able to support itself, and not just that, but really contribute a great human resource back into the community.
“I personally would love to have Jessie’s Ranch in that old Seeman Ranch house, and maybe partner with the high school or with 4-H to re-establish the barn with pigs and horses and chickens. That place was so important to Dean and he worked so hard on it to keep it immaculate.
“It would be neat to see this effort continue in that place.”
“People would always ask, well, it would go something along the lines of, ‘Why are you wasting time with a mean old drunk?’” Keele said. “But some people are just different publicly than they are privately. It’s not who he was, or who we knew.
“He stopped drinking later in life. This was a man who gave up his life to take care of his sisters. And who’s to say maybe it wouldn’t have been that great of a life. But what he had, he gave to the people he loved.
“He loved his sisters. He loved Jessie. And he had a heart for children and families dealing with mental disabilities. He slept on a twin mattress in a sleeping bag – his entire adult life. He was worth millions of dollars and yet he was intent on not spending another cent than he had to.
“Because of that, many, many others can benefit now.”
Directly and indirectly, it would seem.
“If you have someone with nonverbal autism, they may need to have someone with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, “ Decker said. “That is potentially five full-time employees providing that care. We know in Douglas County many hundreds of individuals that would qualify for supportive services. What if we only provided 10 people support?
“Let’s say 10 people equals 50 full-time employees. As a non-profit, I don’t have to take the extra money; I get to put it back into the program. I’ll hire the staff at the same wage at the same wage as a for-profit and I’ll be able to give them full, paid benefits.
“What does it do to have 50 staff who now have full-time jobs and full-time pay? What happens if those same 50 employees are trained to support, trained in family resources, trained in spotting domestic and senior abuse. We’d have an army of people who know what the heck they are doing out there.
“And that’s only if we can serve even 10 individuals with this program. What about the hundreds that would qualify for support?
“This can make an enormous impact on Douglas County.
“We support a lot of victims of rape, violence and abuse. We put them into Abbey’s Crossing as a safe house. Maybe they have never been able to have a real job. What does it mean to be able to have a place where I can hire them and train them into a good job without them having a college degree? Where they can leave the safe house with a real job that can support them and their children?”
And that’s not even considering the potential for housing, Decker said.
Decker’s five-year plan for the Family Support Council includes an interconnective “Vision Wheel” which outlines the possibility of purchasing or building multi-unit housing with half open to the general population and the remainder being opened to a special population.
“One of the No. 1 issues in Douglas County is a lack of rental housing,” he said. “It we are purchasing or building rental units, let’s say I have 100 units and half of those I’m going to rent out to anyone off the street. Intermixed with those 50 units, we are also able to set aside housing for someone who is a veteran, or someone with a disability, or a victim of rape or assault who has gone through our shelter program.”
“This is the mechanism to get us there,” Decker said. “What would it do if we had a miniature army of people who knew what to do.
“It seems crazy that serving people with autism leads to prevention of domestic violence, but the statistics run hand-in-hand.
“We’ve been working on this a long time. It’ll take some time to get rolling, but it will be pretty incredible once it is.”
Think back on that old chain for just a moment.
Hard to see at first, and with significant hurdles obscuring the path there.
With detailed planning and determined, incremental pursuit, up to the surface rose a significant achievement – multiple pieces linking together for a singular purpose.
Now that chain hangs on the fence around the property where the idea of Jessie’s Ranch was born.
An unofficial welcome sign where the program may one day be housed.
Something pretty incredible indeed.
For more information on Jessie’s Ranch, or to apply or volunteer for a position, or for more information on the Family Support Council, visit www.family-support.org.