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Hohepa: Every Life Fully Lived

When you think of Hohepa, chances are you think of a small, somewhat quaint, self- contained community that makes cheese and candles. You may have been to Hohepa’s country fair, tasted its award-winning artisan cheeses, or stopped off

BUT CONTRARY TO PERCEPTION , Hohepa is actually one of the region’s most important caregivers and largest employers, with over 400 staff across multiple sites, a turnover upwards of $20 million, and strong connections to the fabric of Hawke’s Bay, and beyond. Yet straining to meet changing needs with dated and threatened infrastructure.

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At the core of Hohepa’s enterprise is its provision of holistic care for some of the most vulnerable in our society, from young children through to the elderly, with a wide range of intellectual disabilities and neurobiological conditions, and an ever-complex raft of high-end needs and behaviours.

Inspired by the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, Hohepa was founded in 1957 through the joint initiative of Dame Marjorie Allan and local farming entrepreneur, Sir Lewis Harris. Harris backed what was a forward-thinking and enlightened vision of supported inclusion in a time of institutionalized, psychiatric- oriented mental health care, gifting the original 21 hectare site at Poraiti and the funds to “make it happen”.

A transformative model of care

At the heart of Hohepa’s ethos, is the freedom and dignity of the individual, as Alfred Busch, Hohepa’s adult services manager, expounds: “Our position is that people should not just participate in life, but contribute – for social inclusion, self-esteem, independence, and even the possibility of earning an income; these are general human values. We believe we should foster as much autonomy, despite disability, as possible; it’s part of our human dignity … Our role is to enable people by developing life skills and social capacity, not simply to deliver a ‘system of care’.”

Hohepa’s legally mandated Special Character is refl ected in the individual development plans for each of its 140 service users. “These are based on the insight of body, soul and spirit,” Alfred explains. “Body being connected to environment, to health and wellbeing; soul to communication and relationships, to emotions; and spirit connected to autonomy, aspiration and freedom of individuality. That’s what makes our service delivery holistic and we work with this in a very practical and integrated way.”

Clive adult community

One of the special features of Hohepa is its two operational farms, run on principles of biodynamic agriculture with the Demeter seal of accreditation. Along with a smorgasbord of dairy products made at the Clive cheesery, Hohepa grows its own meat, vegetables and fruit under an internal community-supported agriculture scheme. All surplus not used by Hohepa is sold through the onsite shop, Farmers’ Market stall, and to wineries and shops throughout NZ.

‘The Farm’, as it used to be called at Clive, sits low on the wind-tussled coast, bordered by the Waitangi Estuary and an ever-busy highway. Salinity is an issue, and Hohepa’s new property and sustainability manager, Angela Stead, has been tasked with finding new crops to cope with increasingly “sandy, salty soils” – one of the e ects of climate change. Tsunami warnings mean the entire adult residential community has to be evacuated – a big, tricky effort – which means ultimately they will have to relocate.

In the meantime, however, the place thrums to a rhythm of supported activities, special therapies, home-life routines and seasonal celebrations. Most of Hohepa’s adult service users are involved from 9am- 4pm each weekday in diverse vocational activities. The majority reside in Hohepa’s ten community houses in suburban Napier, while forty live in seven onsite facilities at Clive. Those with very high health needs or extreme behaviours undertake home-based activities; a few are retired.

“We don’t want a ‘normal’ life; we want an outrageous and special life for everyone!” ALFRED BUSCH

Touring the onsite workshops, we admire the weft work at the Rose Weavery. Facilitator Jasmine Dubrau says most of the participants have a unique artistic sense and style, and come up with their own systems. Like Candice with her distinctive flair for bold, contemporary colour combinations; she works independently at a large loom, with multiple threaded shuttles, creating simple, funky jackets, blankets, ponchos, cushion covers. Others need more assistance, but all are enabled towards creative autonomy and are manifestly proud of their work.

In the warm, bee-scented candle-making workshop, we are shown the industry of dipping coloured candles and making fi restarters from leftover scraps of wax. As in all the workshops there is a convivial hum of activity, the atmosphere calm and measured.

Above: Jayden (13) carving pounamu; top right: Tania Bryant demonstrating the art of making candles; bott om right: Workshop facilitator Jasmine Dubrau
with weavers Margaret Douglas (L) and Candice Chung (R).

Outside, we meet the ‘estate team’, who take care of the grounds, raking leaf-fall and acorns from under mature oaks and wheeling barrows of mulch, as we walk past the hall where music and speech therapy is in progress, dropping into the woodwork room where wooden toys – train sets, trucks – and outdoor furniture are made.

Meaningful contributions to the daily life of the Hohepa community include farm and horticultural activities – growing vegetables, milking, making cheese – and the organisation has partnered with a native tree nursery. But there are also off-site ‘community participation’ opportunities, with adults working at the SPCA, in coffee shops, resthomes and cinemas, according to interest and ability. Day services coordinator, Jeff Carroll, says they are always looking for participatory opportunities in the wider community and are exploring the possibility of an activities hub in town for easier access and broader engagement.

With a commitment to providing a whole life approach (its longest-term resident has been at Hohepa since its inception), there’s now an elder care sector, and Hohepa prides itself on also sustaining an onsite clinic, with two registered nurses and a part-time GP. The nurses at Hohepa are “specialists at generalist practice”, Jocelyn Freeman explains, covering a wide range of practice nursing, acute assessment, complementary therapies, advocacy, staff education and palliative care.

“We want facilities that inspire and instil di erent standards, that can be adjusted to need and meet functional requirements… safety glass, robust materials, easy-to-clean surfaces – if it’s easy to manage the facility, sta are freed up to invest more time with the children, rather than constantly auditing the environment for them.” NEIL KIRTON

While the organisation receives significant government funding until residents are 65 years old, there’s a huge disparity between the standard pension benefits they then receive and the resourcing required, with a propensity for increased medical conditions and often early-onset dementia. “But this is their home, and they have a right to remain here.”

Clockwise from top left : Santiago DeMarco, director of children’s services; Oscar (14) with caregiver Renato Alves from Brazil; Clare, one of Ho-
hepa’s herd of short-horn milkers; Roderick Stronach, who began at the Home School when he was seven years old, and nurse Jocelyn Freeman (R)
who runs the onsite clinic.

Poraiti children’s community Hohepa’s special school and residential homes for children with extreme high-end needs and behaviours are nestled on the idyllic, north-facing slopes of the Poraiti farm – a former pa site – with views that stretch out across terraced gardens and trees to the Kaweka Ranges.

The school is purpose built, with a conscious aesthetic that embodies Hohepa’s values of function and beauty. There is a lot of indoor-outdoor flow with quiet sunny nooks, fl owers, trees, as well as contained, low-sensory spaces.

The children, from 6-14 years old, are taught an adapted Steiner school curriculum, with specifi c learning goals tailored to need. The older students move out of a classroom setting to take up more applied, practical skills with a clear programme and fi ve-year, individualised transition plan for their next life-stage (at age 16-21), whether that be in the adult’s community at Clive, supported independent living or back home with family.

Principal Stephen Evans loves his job:

“It’s a beautiful gift to unwrap,” he enthuses. Learning is reciprocal and “happens for everyone”, teachers, teacher aides, children alike. He sees himself as merely the “orchestrator of direction”, facilitating the process of discovery and growth through being open and listening, responsive to the individual needs of every child. “One size fits one – we really live that here.”

Inside a small classroom a couple of children are working with flashcards and numbers, while in the library, others are reading, looking at pictures, sorting books – as with any school there’s attention to numeracy and literacy. But in the space of an hour, we also meet Jayden carving pounamu with mesmerising intent, a young boy with a bucket of weeds he’s dug from the garden, hear the laugh and shouts of kids trooping off to play badminton in the hall, and speak with James who is wearing a scarf he has just made himself.

At 3 o’clock, the kids spill out onto the paved entrance – some walk home independently (like Yulisha, who skips ahead), others accompanied by caregivers, on the path that wends beside citrus groves, hothouses, cattle, hazelnut hedges to the onsite children’s homes: St Martin, McGowan, Tobias House…

These are ‘homes away from home’, catering for between 1-7 children in a colourful domestic environment, with an emphasis on calm, predictable rhythms, good nutrition, rest and exercise. There are trampolines and sandpits in the gardens, artwork on the walls, shared meals. Some children remain here year round – this is their home – others return to their families every holiday.

Poraiti’s also home for many of the sta who live on site, and for a host of volunteers and international workers who come from all over the world to experience and learn from Hohepa’s ‘quiet revolution’.

Santiago DeMarco came to Hohepa as a volunteer 17 years ago from Argentina and, inspired by Hohepa’s community model, established (with wife Sandra) a socio- cultural development centre, Aramitan, in the favelas of Sao Paolo. Aramitan’s leadership team travels periodically to Hohepa for mentorship. Reciprocally, for many of our own young people, working at Hohepa can be a “gateway to the world”, opening up professional opportunities internationally for non-profi t organisations and Steiner-inspired initiatives.

Santiago has been “on the frontline and in every possible role” at Hohepa Poraiti, living on site with his own family until recently. He worked as a ‘house parent’ (a locus parental managing role, providing continuity of care) at one of the seven children’s homes for 15 years and, now as director of children’s services, has shared guardianship, and in some cases full custody, of Poraiti’s 44 children who come from around New Zealand, through their family’s conscious choice of school, “absolute need”, or through agency referrals.

The children’s community has contracts with the Ministry of Education, which supports the school operation; the Ministry of Health, which funds the residential service; and CYFS, through the Ministry of Social Development. “The demands of compliance are huge,” says Santiago, but Hohepa has a good relationship with the relevant authorities, who are on the whole “immensely supportive of what we do”.

Working with the families is a crucial aspect of Santiago’s role. “We need to rebuild trust and confi dence, both for the children, many of whom have had traumatic experiences, and for the families too. We have to heal relationships; it’s like social rehabilitation.”

The ‘Home School’ is completely full, with a growing demand, and it’s clear that it needs to increase its capacity, both through its service provision and physical facilities.

“If you are on your own as a parent or small family unit having to deal with these complex behaviours and needs, it’s a survival mode. Here you are part of an extended, interdisciplinary team that is on the one hand a community, with the person’s needs and their family at its centre, but which has, on the other hand, a professional approach with comprehensive plans in place for each individual, and specialist training.” SANTIAGO DEMARCO

Evolving to meet changing needs

The impetus for Hohepa sixty years ago was a movement for change to the lock-down of people with intellectual disability in institutions. With de-institutionalisation thirty years ago and society’s integration of moderate ‘special needs’, those with Down’s syndrome, for example, no longer needed to be residentially homed at Hohepa, and the demographic shifted accordingly; instead there was a marked increase in children with autism.

Santiago puts it down to society “essentially ‘freaking out’, not sure how to cope with people who had these socially challenging behaviours and sensory issues.” Interestingly, he says, there is now a lot of information out there about autism spectrum disorders, and strong advocacy by groups like the Autism Association, and as a result Hohepa is seeing less people with autism coming through their doors.

In recent years, Hohepa has been predominately dealing with issues related to trauma, foetal alcohol syndrome, attachment disorders – these are sensitive issues for families, says Santiago, as there are strong judgements in society and a paucity of understanding and awareness … “the gap is huge”.

The difference now, is that these newer presentations are symptomatic of a whole societal issue rather than being isolated to genetics, environment, neurobiology, etc, and the spectrum of need and behaviour is far broader and more complex. This is going to require a societal transformation of a much bigger, deep-reaching scale, Santiago believes.

Hohepa is currently in discussion with the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children for how Hohepa can extend its provision and become a pool of resources for families to tap into. They’re exploring the option of alternative services, for example, that are not just residentially-based, such as supporting families practically at home using Hohepa’s resilience and special character values, or supporting children one-on-one in other schools.

“We are challenging ourselves to always be relevant to needs, while remaining true to our values,” says Santiago.

Clockwise from top left : Principal Stephen Evans with student James (18); view across Poraiti’s terraced gardens; business manager Neil Kirton; Ryan
(15) with teacher aide Graham Spicer in the school library.

Significant challenges

Hohepa Hawke’s Bay provides an essential service for many of society’s most vulnerable, accommodating those who struggle to be accommodated elsewhere. There are no other children’s school and residential facilities like Poraiti in NZ, and their fully-operational farm-based services for adults are unique. But it’s facing signifi cant challenges, highlighted by a recently-commissioned external review.

Increasing referrals of children with very complex cognitive-behavioural problems are impacting sta (the work with some of these children is intensely demanding), reframing the appropriateness of current residential facilities at Poraiti and the culture of care provided. At the same time, Hohepa has an ageing population and funding gap, with its original cohort (now in their 60s and 70s) requiring intense ongoing care due to higher susceptibility to illness and loss of function.

The site at Clive, threatened by sea-rise, is no longer viable for Hohepa’s service provision, and a new site will need to be found for the adult community within 20 years. In the meantime there’s maintenance required on existing infrastructure. “Our residents are hard on their living spaces,” says Hohepa’s business manager Neil Kirton, which need specialist upgrading to accommodate the spectrum of need and behaviour.

An immediate project is the complete rebuild of one of the youth houses at Poraiti, which is leaky beyond repair and needs urgent replacing with a versatile, low-sensory, fit-for purpose building that can meet “the extremes of requirements”. This will be costly and Hohepa is seeking financial assistance to do so.

When it rebuilt its school facilities ten years ago, Hohepa launched a huge fundraising campaign, raising $4 million from within Hawke’s Bay – the response was “unbelievable”, and indicative of the region’s support.

“Hohepa has substantial international interest and a world-wide reputation, as well as a profi le in the NZ intellectual disability sector,” says Neil, “and we want to grow that outreach.” To be sustainable long-term, however, Hohepa needs to have “a renewal programme” similar to the pioneering e orts of Hohepa’s founders sixty years ago, one that “a new generation can step up to”. The payoff, he believes, will be a world- class facility in Hawke’s Bay for “a highly recognised, high-needs service.”

Hohepa is looking at potential partnership arrangements and sponsorship, and exploring alternative means of funding, alongside bequests and trust funds, such as a bond, or loan facility with a fair rate of return.

“We want people to consider us if looking at some philanthropic approach,” says Neil, “or even on a commercial level. We would love someone to come in and build us a new cow-shed [to replace the "ancient” walk- through dairy] and share the profits with us that arise from the Hohepa cheese brand.”

Hohepa drew my mother to Hawke’s Bay in the idealistic ‘70s, and I’ve borne witness to some of its evolution over the years, albeit from the periphery. Visiting now, I am struck by this renewed mission for social transformation and for the upholding of human dignity and compassion.

I take with me Santiago’s metaphor of community-supported care as a social art: “Places like Hohepa are like social sculptures. Our community dynamic forms something tangible, which transforms, in turn, lives and relationships.”

If you are interested in helping Hohepa through investment or philanthropy, contact Neil Kirton, 870 0426 (ext. 720), or business@hawk.hohepa.org.nz

Bridget Freeman-Rock29 May 2017

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