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The Mustard Seed Project

Person-centered care breaks ground in Key Peninsula

By Rachel Kelly

After seven years of planning, fundraising, design and study, The Mustard Seed Project is breaking ground for its first assisted living and memory care homes in the Key Peninsula.


The Key Peninsula is a beautiful place to grow old, and many residents have lived their whole lives there. Some transplants move to the “almost island” to retire. Still others choose the Key Peninsula because of its beauty and affordability. As residents age, it’s no mystery why they choose to stay in the area. As is often the case, aging brings with it a myriad of hurdles; one of the larger hurdles being relocation. Sometimes relocation is simply a move to a smaller, more manageable home. But if memory care or assisted living is required, residents in the Key Peninsula have no choice but to leave the area. Now with the development of The Mustard Seed Project’s assisted living and memory care homes, residents have the option of staying in the Key Peninsula. This is a resounding relief, not just for residents but for the doctors and specialists who are entrusted with the care of our aging relatives.


The Mustard Seed Project is an organization that began with a focus on elder transportation, referral, wellness, housing options and community education. The increasing community volunteer network in the project helps to keep the aging in our community closely connected to invaluable relationships, relationships that solidify the positive mental health and wellness of our aging residents.


“Since 2006, the Mustard Seed Project’s staff, volunteers and partner organizations have provided a wide array of programs and services to seniors on the Key Peninsula. These services help people age in place in their homes and remain in this community,” says Marion Sharp, development director of the Mustard Seed Project. “The assisted living homes are an extension of that aim, allowing people to stay in this place that they love—even when they can no longer live on their own. This will make a huge difference for our elders, their friends, neighbors and families.”


Rural communities such as the Key Peninsula have a tendency to be older, versus urban areas. And yet, often rural areas have the least access to assisted living or residential care. Usually, rural areas have no assisted living settings at all. The Mustard Seed Project is changing that with homes that will be a reflection of their mission to ensure choices for healthy aging. Homes that are a fulfillment of their vision for an elder-friendly Key Peninsula. The homes themselves will follow a model developed by The Greenhouse Project, which is a unique person-centered way to provide supportive care to older people.


The Greenhouse Project focuses its efforts toward Best Life practices. This means that elder care is focused on what is positive, rather than negative. The Greenhouse Project model provides care according to what their residents can do, rather than what they can’t. Their Best Life approach helps all members of any given association that assists elderly to understand the complexities of dementia and to help caregivers see each person as an individual. This means that older people in the care of the Greenhouse Project umbrella have access to living and participating in what brings them joy, each according to their individual gifts.


Practically, it goes like this: The Greenhouse Project is a nonprofit that provides pre-assessment, a customizable approach, on-site training, and sustainable oversight through ongoing training and support. The Best Life approach used by the Greenhouse Project ensures a campus that follows four basic principles: the power of normal, focus on retained abilities, dignity of risk, and advocacy. The power of normal is the principle that limits isolation, retaining as much normalcy as possible in an non-restrictive environment. The focus on retained abilities ensures that people living with dementia continue to learn and have new experiences, and practice in what they are still capable of doing. The dignity of risk is a focus on rich relationships that don’t rely on restrictions, be they chemical or physical. The last principle, advocacy, broadens the role of team members providing care, advancing the belief that no one should be defined by their diagnosis.


Elder care facilities that follow Best Life practices advocated by the Greenhouse Project, such as the memory care and assisted living homes being built by the Mustard Seed Project, have a radically different organization structure. Green House homes are small in scale, self-contained and self-sufficient—with people at the center. Each home includes private rooms and bathrooms, a living room with a fireplace, and outdoor spaces that are easy to access and navigate. Thanks to a $7.8 million USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Loan, $5.7 million in support from Pierce County, and the generous support of individuals and foundations, the Key Peninsula will have its own unique Green House homes. The Mustard Seed project will oversee the development of the facility, as well the well-being and health of its members.

Thanks to the Mustard Seed Project, the Key Peninsula is finally getting the care it deserves.

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