Susan and Pat Mooney face the same dilemma as many parents of developmentally disabled children: What will become of their son when they're gone?
The Centennial couple, whose 23-year-old son Ross suffered brain damage as a result of a genetic disorder in his early teens, explored their options: group homes or institutions, many with years-long waiting lists.
Dissatisfied with the offerings, the Mooneys elected to create their own: Tall Tales Ranch, an “intentional community” in Lone Tree where developmentally disabled people will live alongside “neurotypical” people, or folks without disabilities.
“We wanted something forward thinking, where when we're gone, somebody will look at him and ask him how his day was,” Susan Mooney said. “Most developmentally disabled folks, by the time they're a little older, don't have a family of their own. It's one thing to put a roof over somebody's head, but they need community too.”
Though ground likely won't be broken on Tall Tales Ranch for another three years, the Mooneys are hard at work drumming up support and sponsors for the project. They're holding the third annual Tall Tales Hoedown on Sept. 22 at the Lone Tree Arts Center, where “special needs ambassadors” — young people who may one day be residents of Tall Tales Ranch — will hold a talent show and gala.
The dream is seeming more tangible than ever this year, after Coventry Development donated a land lease in perpetuity to the project, on part of the historic Schweiger Ranch across I-25 from Cabela's on RidgeGate Parkway.
Susan Mooney said Tall Tales Ranch will likely consist of duplex cottages housing a total of 50 people — 25 developmentally disabled, and 25 “neurotypicals.” On-site staff will help administer medications.
She also envisions livestock, community garden plots and a barn that will double as a community center and coffee shop, designed to provide residents with income and the ranch with revenue.
The neurotypical residents are likely to be interns or students from a variety of mental health care and medical training programs, Susan Mooney said.
The developmentally disabled residents, whom the Mooneys call “ranchers,” will likely be folks without significant medical needs, but who would still struggle to live on their own.
Neurotypicals will not have mandated duties beyond being dedicated members of the community, Susan Mooney said.
“They won't be doing therapeutic tasks, just being a neighbor and having meals with the ranchers, or taking care of the property or the animals,” she said.
The ranch's funding model is still being developed, Pat Mooney said. Currently, Tall Tales Ranch is actively seeking donations and sponsorships, and he said they hope to being seeking grants.
Once the ranch is completed, funding might come from private payments as well as Medicaid and Social Security funds.
Taking on a project like Tall Tales Ranch sometimes seems daunting, said Pat Mooney, who for the last 20 years has run a business selling and installing artificial turf for golf putting greens. He said eager partners have been emerging to help the couple navigate the water.
“We're fortunate to have some bright minds in industries that can help us maneuver the system,” he said. “That's the key to a nonprofit's success is relationships with people who can help you.”
There's not a magic number for funding the project, Susan Mooney said. They expect the project may cost anywhere from $2 million to $6 million to get off the ground. Three years of fundraising have netted gains toward that goal, though currently much of the funds are going to general operations, growing the project, seeking partnerships and other costs.
Parents of other disabled children are eager to see the project take shape.
“This means security,” said Ann Beetham, of Littleton, whose disabled 26-year-old son Alex will likely need housing someday.”Right now, there are people who have been on a housing list since the late 1980s. There's a desperate need. There are aging parents who have no idea what's going to happen to their children with disabilities.”
Pat Mooney said the dire need for the project keeps his fire burning.
“This is going to be our life's work,” he said. “We're committed to getting it done. It's been an amazing journey, and we're getting more people involved, and that snowball is growing.”