Caring couple create ranch for developmentally disabled men

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VALLEY CENTER — Deep in the nurturing heart of a mother is the desire to protect her child. When that child has disabilities or similar concerns, the drive to provide safety intensifies.

Karen Gillett's love—and fears—for her son, Tim, sparked a vision that will soon help others as well.

Tim Norseen, the first of three children born to Karen from a previous marriage, is developmentally disabled with an IQ of 69. Karen knows that her son, now 46, will likely be alive long after she and her husband, Fred, have passed into eternity.

"As a mother, the fear of separation has always been there," the 68-year-old mother said. "All mothers feel that way, but especially those with children with any disability. With the creation of the ranch, there is great relief that Tim would be in a place that's safe and near parental guidance and supervision."

The "ranch" is a dream for not only their son, but also other adult men with developmental disabilities. The couple recently met with a contractor and architect to design the ranch facilities. They would love to build a chapel, schoolroom, dining room, and possibly a pool, but the main focus is on independent housing.

"Developmentally disabled men need to have their own place and things," she said. "They need a safe place to be. Many are autistic, and some have Asperger's syndrome. Others have an overlay of emotional problems because they are often frustrated by their disability and not successful in some areas of their lives. Some have mental retardation with autism."

Circle T Ranch—named for Tim and the Gilletts' nonprofit ministry, The Timothy Circle Inc.—is interviewing men to live and work at the 42-acre ranch. The Gilletts are focusing on men only, so they do not have to deal with separate living quarters. The residents will have an IQ of 65 to 85 and must be 18 years of age or older.

They must have completed or be currently enrolled in an independent living program, or show appropriate strengths in independent living skills. They also must be potentially self-sustaining both physically and financially, and be willing and able to contribute to the "family group" by performing normal household chores.

Gillett is clear about what the ranch is not.

"We are not looking for those who are diagnosed with mental diseases like schizophrenia, or those on drugs," she said. "We are not a rehab facility."


Down and out
The ranch, she said, will provide a safe environment to keep the disabled off the streets.

"Some of the developmentally disabled are in group homes, but others are left out in the community, homeless," Gillett said. "They can operate in society to some level, but sometimes get in trouble with the law or in their finances."

"It's astounding that one of every 150 children is autistic. It's epidemic," she said. "More than 3,000 adults with an IQ of 65 to 85 are living in Southern California with their parents. What's going to happen to them?"

These developmentally disabled individuals can live and cook simple meals, but at some point, "the floor falls out from beneath them and they are down and out," Gillett said. "They can live independently, but they need loving care in a safe, family setting."


The avocado connection
The goal for Circle T Ranch is to become a self-supporting ministry, drawing respect and support from the community. The Valley Center environment is conducive to agriculture, and the ranch has a large garden, a greenhouse and an avocado grove—providing a number of options for ranchers to work.

The ministry has an "Avocado-of-the-Month Club" that ships plump, ready-to-ripen king-sized Hass avocados to supporters who send various levels of support, but the Gilletts have encountered something of a financial quagmire of late with a shortage of rain.

"We had rain in January and February," Gillett said, "but we've had to cut back and not water up to 30 percent of our grove. We're concerned about what may happen in June and July when the temperatures rise."

So the Gilletts were grateful and encouraged recently with a donation from a local company that has a funding program for charities.

"The company will tithe 10 percent of its revenues every quarter," she said. "It's wonderful. This opened the door for us to approach other companies in the area to see if they have charitable outreaches."

The ranch will grow other produce in its garden, she said, and they are exploring the idea of approaching local restaurants and hotels in San Diego County.


From knees to feet
After years of preparation, the Gilletts said they are encouraged by support that is beginning to come in for their ranch.

"This is the year that we're going to get off our knees and onto our feet as God is working through us," Fred Gillett said.

Fred is an ordained pastor and the shepherd of The Timothy Circle. He also acts as a youth pastor at Community Reformed Church of Escondido—in the same denomination as Dr. Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral. The Gilletts used to attend Schuller's church.

"The Schullers were very supportive of our ministry," Karen Gillett said.

The Gilletts are semi-retired and active—in their "young 60s," she said. They worked together in business for 25 years with an organization related to worker's compensation and professional safety for companies in California, and Fred still works for them. Along with tackling the hard labor at the Circle T, Karen runs the ranch house and manages the ministry's books.

The ministry's board of directors includes teachers, a Ph.D. in psychology, and a powerful adviser—Dr. Ralph Showers.

Showers, a Baptist minister who gained national attention in 1973 when he started Rainbow Acres, a working ranch for the developmentally disabled in Arizona, now has four ranches, and he has helped to start two dozen others in the United States. The Gilletts used his concept as a model for Circle T Ranch.

They also seek outlets to minister to the developmentally disabled in their area. They recently started a "Circle of Friends" at their church, inviting the developmentally disabled from a local care facility to their church for fellowship, music and games.

The symbolism of The Timothy Circle and Circle T Ranch describes Karen Gillett's greatest hopes for her son and others like him.

"A circle," she said, "is like a hug. It rings your arm around people. It just feels good."

Visit www.thetimothycircle.org or call (760) 742-3636 for more information. For details about the Avocado-of –the-Month Club, visit the Web site and click on "Helping Us."