Jefferson Award Winner Runs Vine VillageBy Allen Martin

NAPA (KPIX 5)  Finding care for a child with disabilities is, at the very least, challenging. So 45 years ago, when two Bay Area families decided to start a facility to care for their developmentally disabled family members and others, no one had any idea if it would work. This week’s Jefferson Award winner is living proof that it did work, and has been a huge success.

Saanen Kerson is the third generation of a family dedicated to providing love and hope to those who need it most. It was in 1973 that Kerson’s grandparents, along with another couple, started Vine Village in Napa. Kerson’s parents took over the Village when their parents retired. And Kerson says she knew exactly what her career path was going to be.

“Since I was a little girl I always told my parents, ‘Don’t worry, when you retire I’ll run the ranch, don’t worry,” explained Kerson.

Eventually her parents did retire, and now Kerson is doing what the two previous generations have done. Vine Village was started because Kerson’s Aunt Debbie was born with Down Syndrome. The family wouldn’t take the doctor’s advice and put Debbie in a state hospital for the rest of her life. Now 63, Debbie has lived in the same room at the ranch for 45 years.

The 25 acre property has three houses. Eighteen residents live at the ranch full time. Another twenty-five residents come to use the daily programs, which include field trips, agriculture, animals, and art classes. The programs offered are so amazing, Kerson says that people come from all over the world to see what Vine Village is all about.

“Even if their relative never lives here or never comes to our day program,” said Kerson, “It gives them hope that there are good places like this where people can live and work and be cared for.

Jane Meyer has been a Vine Village volunteer and board member since the mid 1970’s. She actually tried to talk Kerson into not taking over the Ranch, saying to her at the time, “You’ve been here all your life. And { Kerson} said ‘And I want to stay here all my life. And this is what I want to do. This is where I want to live. This is where I want to be. These are the people I want to help.”

And Kerson has been a big help and friend to residents like Sarah DeNatale who moved to Vine Village four years ago.

“That you have a lot of people that loves you and cares about you and do things with you and stuff,” said DeNatale. “That feels good.”

For Kerson that help is a two way street.

“I love this place. There’s so much good that comes from this place,” shared Kerson. ” If I were ever in a position of needing 24 hour care I would hope that people as kind as the staff here and my family would be the ones providing it.”

Recently Vine Village has had a series of close calls. It was badly damaged in the Napa Earthquake of 2014 and has undergone extensive repairs. And the October wildfires came close enough to the ranch that people and animals had to be evacuated. In both cases no one was hurt. But the Village is funded through donations and grants. Kerson says community support is always welcome.

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