A special house for special kids

Caregiver Chris Powers (left) helps Brittany Deits cross the work area where a ramp for disabled access is being built at Stephens House. Tiffany Kleiven, her daughter Victoria and and Paul Deits look on. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
Caregiver Chris Powers (left) helps Brittany Deits cross the work area where a ramp for disabled access is being built at Stephens House. Tiffany Kleiven, her daughter Victoria and and Paul Deits look on.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

Paul Deits, Chris Powers and Jay Hanseth know how to keep their eye on the donut – and not on the hole.

The three members of the Bainbridge Island Special Needs Foundation have teamed up to establish Stephens House, a place where they say disabled kids will be able to run their own donut business.

The center will be located in a 50-year-old building owned by Eagle Harbor Congregational Church, between the church and the Marge Williams Center on Winslow Way. The building was until recently a chiropractor’s office.

It was Powers – a registered nurse who has for the past 15 years cared for Hanseth’s disabled son, 21-year-old Bainbridge High School senior Trepp Hanseth – who had the donut inspiration.

“I had been thinking ‘Trepp’s leaving school – what are they going to do?’” she said. Powers’ other charge, Deits’ 23-year-old daughter Brittany, disabled by meningitis since infancy, would also need a productive life.

“I remembered a donut machine I had seen a few years back in Port Townsend that makes mini-donuts in a glass-sided machine and pops them out onto a conveyor belt,” Powers said. “Then Paul mentioned that the church had this building.

“It was so bizarre – we were thinking about the same thing, but he had the ‘where’ and I had the ‘what.’”

The building’s availability crystallized the plan, and church members favored the notion as well.

“The building will be used for a good purpose and they’re apt to pay a reasonable rent,” Eagle Harbor Pastor Dee Eisenhauer said.

“The church is completely enthusiastic – very much for it.”

The intent, Deits said, is to support profoundly disabled youth. At present, there are 10 families involved in the Stephens House plan. The youth vary in developmental age from 1 to 10 years old.

“If I went to the schools, I could enlarge the group,” Deits said. “More families will be interested when they wake up to the realities they face.

“You’re overwhelmed by the situation.”

Kids and parents

Deits says Stephens House will support both youth and parents.

“This is to give the kids meaningful work, but also to give relief to the care-givers,” he said.

Charitable subsidies, he said, typically only give families with profoundly disabled children enough to pay caregivers for six hours of help a week. Deits says he hopes to give Stephens House clients 40 hours of care per week.

One way is to deliver services for less than a regular agency charges, forming partnerships with other agencies.

“The most interesting feature of the whole undertaking may be the teaming-up of four entities,” Hanseth said. “It took a lot of different players to get the plan for Stephens House in place.”

First, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church made the house available to the non-profit foundation, while the Bainbridge Island School district may supply personnel and use the facility for “transitioning” special needs students to life beyond school.

Ongoing funding from the Washington State’s Division of Rehabilitation Services will help purchase equipment for the donut business and underwrite the business; and the Kitsap County Division of Developmental Disabilities found long-term funding for vocational training.

“We just have to forward our insurance information to them,” Deits said, “and then we present the signed contract to the county commissioners. It’s pretty much a done deal.”

Deits said much of the first years’ expenses of $50,000 will come from private underwriting and funding operating expenses.

“Paying staff to be on the premises is a different issue,” he said.“We’re looking at larger corporations. A director for the Stephens House could be employed by Miscrosoft, for example.”

This old house

The center takes its name from the building itself – the church purchased by the 1,500-square-foot house from islanders Ray and Myrtle Stephen in the mid-1980s.

Besides making donuts, organizers hope to establish other vocational programs, such as a yard-care business.

The model for Stephens House is a self-employment co-op rather than a sheltered workshop. Deits envisions an office, meeting room and a sitting room with walls hung with works by disabled artists.

There may even be room to house a physical therapist.

The property is now being upgraded with wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and a ramp to the front door.

Extensive foundation work and a few minor disasters – an exploding water heater that ruined the new paint job and soaked plaster lathe in the kitchen ceiling, for example – have already more than doubled the estimated cost of renovation and pushed back the date of completion.

Despite the setbacks, Hanseth, Powers and Deits are optimistic; they expect to see Stephens House workers pulling a wagon loaded with paper bags full of mini-donuts by summer.

Commuter Comforts has already agreed to handle the wares, so the sight of the red wagon tooling through town may soon become an island institution.

The trio have no doubt about the quality of the goods, either.

“We’re going to have the best donuts in town,” Hanseth said.

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