Making the Choice for Community
This article originally appeared in our Autumn 2015 Newsletter, with special thanks to Diedra Heitzman, Felicity Jeans, and Sherry Wildfeuer.
The history of Camphill began in the early 20th century with Rudolf Steiner, who was a philosopher, an editor of Goethe’s scientific work, and the founder of Anthroposophy.
Based on a spiritual understanding of humanity and of evolution, Steiner brought renewal and fruitful directions to many areas of life, including agriculture, medicine, art, architecture, economics, education, and work with people with developmental disabilities. In the context of the chaos in Europe at the time, Steiner also offered significant suggestions towards social renewal.
In the 1920s, a young, talented Viennese physician named Karl Koenig was studying the work of Steiner and decided to go to Switzerland to learn anthroposophical medicine. It was Advent when Koenig arrived at the clinic and school for children with developmental disabilities. The children were participating in an Advent Garden, where a large spiral was created with moss and evergreens with a tall central candle lighting the darkened room. Each child was given an unlit candle set in an apple and in turn walked the spiral, accompanied by gentle instrumental music. At the center, they lit their candles and placed them along the spiral path on their way out, until they had created a shining spiral garden. The inner glow of wonder and accomplishment on each child’s countenance moved Koenig so that he decided to dedicate his career to children with developmental disabilities. He met his wife to-be at the school, and they left together to work at a home for children with special needs in Germany.
When the Nazis came to power it was no longer safe for Dr. Koenig to stay in Germany because of his Jewish origin, so he returned to Vienna and opened a very popular medical practice. He also formed a study group on Steiner’s lectures on social ideals. The group finished the final lecture just as Hitler annexed Austria. They knew they all had to flee because anthroposophists were also persecuted under the Nazi regime, but they promised to try to find each other to put these social ideals into practice.
Koenig was invited to Britain by anthroposophical doctors, and the members of the study group found him there. They were given an old building in the north of Scotland where they took on the responsibility of a group of children with special needs. They formed a community as refugees in a foreign land with a foreign language. Later, they were given a larger estate near Aberdeen in Scotland called “Camphill.” The movement expanded with the establishment of new school communities in other parts of Britain. And as the children grew up, families asked, “What now?”
In 1955 the first adult village was formed – Botton Village, where Kimberton Hills founders Helen and Hubert Zipperlen were active as pioneers. Koenig wanted the adult villages to be very different from the schools. When adults were living together the focus was not to be about “caring for” someone but being partners and peers in community building. Adults together would do what was needed in the world. This was the idea of life-sharing. They strove to become a model for the future: no fees for villagers, no salaries for coworkers, and the idea of interdependence where everyone would learn from each other and support one another.
The Camphill Movement was brought to America in the 1960s. Today, there are 13 communities in North America. Each place is autonomous with its own approach to finances and governance.
No category in a licensing scheme fits our way of life in Kimberton Hills. There have been some compromises to the ideals of the first village, but our way of life-sharing does not fit neatly under any label.
At first it might seem convenient to accept government funding, but the regulations are onerous and would destroy the lifestyle of Kimberton Hills. As an experiment we attempted to incorporate Medicaid Waiver Funding for one person who worked here five days a week for a couple of months, and we found that it was antithetical to community life. For example, it was against the rules for more than three individuals registered with special needs to sit at the same table for a meal. This would be against all that we value as a life-sharing community.
In recent years the trustees of the Camphill Village Trust, the organization that owns the property of several British Camphill places, lost connection with the village ideals and hired managers and shift workers to replace resident householders and life-sharing volunteers. This disrupted the intimacy and continuity of longstanding relationships and destroyed the social fabric of trust and friendship that had been built up over decades.
In America, the Camphill places have varying relationships with the government. Experience has shown that in some states the amount of administrative oversight and paperwork required by government funding gets in the way of genuine life-sharing. It leads to a consumer / provider of service paradigm. Two Camphill places have actually stopped life-sharing.
In the 1980s, Kimberton Hills was challenged by the state of Pennsylvania and was told we had to become licensed. Helen Zipperlen, Michael Babitch and David Schwartz, supported by the community, were able to show the government representatives that those regulations would change who we are. Because of what they saw here, the State did not push the issue any further. We took this gesture of trust very seriously and have made a commitment to do what we do with the best practices to ensure that people are safe and live a meaningful life – our way of life seeks to protect those who are most vulnerable, which is of course the underlying goal of licensing.
A recent study using a survey developed by the University of Toronto revealed that the Camphill life-sharing communities scored higher than four other types of residential options (large residential care; small residential care [i.e. group home]; independent living; and family living) and that Kimberton Hills scored the highest among all Camphill communities in North America for overall Quality of Life, where residents have a “meaningful degree of independence and control over their daily lives.”
Because of the conscious choice not to accept government funding, there must of course be other ways to remain fiscally viable. We continue to do productive work that provides income, and because of our ecological and social ideals we are able to conserve resources and live frugally. We seek the support of families of those who live here. And we must also raise funds via our development office. We are deeply thankful that through our connections with so many friends in the wider community the people in Kimberton Hills are able to lead a thriving, productive, joyful, and meaningful life.
We intend to stand for the ideals and principles of Camphill. We won’t be rigid. We may compromise as we know each situation is unique. Our intention is to remain true to our inclusive values.
We will take a positive approach in encouraging recognition of intentional communities as a viable model for people with developmental disabilities – not to be confused with congregate institutional settings.