DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — At Tall Tales Ranch, their motto is ‘unapologetically different.’ But in many ways, this nonprofit’s ambassadors aren’t that different from most people. They go to college, have hobbies and hold down jobs, all while living with intellectual and developmental disabilities like autism or Down syndrome.
Rocky Mountain PBS spoke with three ambassadors from the organization who range in age from 30 to 38 years old.
Casey Gunning wants people to know she has confidence. “I’m funny, I’m kind, I’m honest. I play basketball, I used to ski and do all the Special Olympics stuff,” she said.
Andrew Carlson jokes that staying busy keeps him out of trouble: “I work and I love sports. I play tennis and hockey and golf."
For Tony Saponaro, it’s about getting rid of the stigma that goes along with having a disability. “Whether you have hearing loss or whether you’re mentally handicapped or physically handicapped, people think you’re irresponsible and can’t do anything,” he explained.
Tall Tales Ranch
An organization that aims to advance neurodiversity by creating community.
The nonprofit’s founder, Susan Mooney, called Tall Tales Ranch a life-sharing community for people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities to live together and have shared experiences.
“We do a pretty good job of making sure someone’s got a roof over their heads and that they’re fed and that kind of thing but that community piece tends to be what’s missing," Mooney said. "There’s still a lot of isolation and separation and so when we learned first hand what people were living with and what our son was looking at for a future we just really felt like we wanted to do something to help."
Mooney and her husband, Pat, started Tall Tales Ranch almost eight years ago after their son, Ross, was diagnosed with an acquired brain injury at the age of 14.
“As soon as he became ill and became disabled, we started looking around for options for what would be available for him to live and work and be part of a community, but we couldn’t find anything that we were really impressed with,” Mooney said.
She wants Ross to have the same things in life that she wants for her other two children who are neurotypical.
“We wanted Ross to be able to experience a complete life, one where he can have meaningful work, one where he can live in a community where he’s respected and has friends," she said.
“The most exciting thing we’re doing right now is we’ve purchased a trailer that we’ve customized into a coffee truck so we’re going to begin that program very soon. We’re going to train a group of people using a pilot program doing vocational skills and then we’re going to start bringing our trailer out into the community and start selling coffee,” Mooney explained.
Next year the nonprofit plans to break ground to build a large planned community on four acres of donated land in Lone Tree. The property will have apartments for 32 residents. Most of the rooms, but not all, will be for the intellectual and developmentally disabled community. There will also be a facility that can be rented out for large events and used for Tall Tales Ranch programming and volunteer opportunities.
“Historically, within this population there has been a lot of isolation in school and work places and in living environments and we know that people who are living with disabilities have so much to offer and so much to give, and the fact is that we as — neurotypical people — are actually better when we get to interact with them, which is true of any kind of diversity; we are better when we are together,” Mooney said.
Gunning can’t wait to live in the new community. She said: "I’m excited and ready to rock and roll with Tall Tales Ranch."
Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.