Head-trauma victims find haven at Puddin’s Place
by Staff Writer
Almost everything at Puddin’s Place comes with a backstory.
Marty Foil, executive director of Hinds’ Feet Farm, is happy to tell visitors about how he and his staff used a bit of ingenuity and gumption to build a group home, designed for people living with acquired and traumatic brain injuries, from the ground up on a nonprofit’s budget.
The end result of a little creative thinking? Saving about $200,000 using materials salvaged from a demolished textile mill in China Grove, a home built in the 1820s and other Hinds Feet Farm projects.
Puddin’s Place is on track to house six residents in late autumn.
“‘Let’s go down to the barn and see what we got’ became our mantra whenever we needed to find more materials,” Foil said. “When it comes to scrounging stuff, I’m pretty good at it.”
The Foil family, led by matriarch Carolyn Van Every Foil, known to friends and family simply as “Puddin,” opened the 36-acre Hinds’ Feet Farm at 14625 Black Farms Road, Huntersville, in 2000 as an equine therapeutic horseback riding program for brain injury victims. Carolyn Foil’s youngest son, Phillip, suffered major brain trauma after a car accident in 1984 left him severely disabled.
The assisted living facilities where the family placed Phillip always felt lacking in comfort and care, Foil said. What expanded into a day program seven years ago has now flourished into a full-time assisted living facility. Phillip, now 45 years old, will be the home’s first resident.
“He has the best room in the entire house,” Foil said.
Working with architects and contractors, the home was built with the family’s prior experiences with assisted living facilities in mind.
“The (other) facilities artificially constrained what someone could or could not do,” Foil said.
Carolyn Foil passed away in April 2010 at the age of 71, but Hind’s Feet Farms continues to push along in her memory.
Like many nonprofit organizations operating in a limited economy, Foil has sought innovative ways to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of the facility. He substituted rough-sawn plywood for drywall in the garage and repurposed wood for plastic for the wheelchair cubbies in the mudroom.
Foil said he wouldn’t disclose the price of the facility, but the small tweaks saved him thousands of dollars compared to the original estimated price.
The final result, he said, even surprised him.
“We knew it would look good, but we didn’t think it would look like something stolen out of a castle in Edinburgh,” he said.
Even a decorative bell located on the farm’s grounds is a product of Foil’s cleverness. While in the mountains, Foil and his daughter found a black bell on a tripod that made “just the most beautiful sound” for $250.
“In my best Concord voice, I said ‘that ain’t nothin’ but a gas cylinder with the bottom cut off,’” he said.
One of Foil’s subcontractors contacted a welder and found out that welders usually throw away the cylinders when they are no longer useable. So now he has nine other cylinders ready to be cut into bells. Hinds’ Feet Farm patients will use the differently pitched bells to play songs together outside, he said
Puddin’s Place will begin accepting residents as soon as it receives accreditation from the state as an assisted living facility, Foil said. The home’s six residents will also take part in the farm’s day program that treats about 25 patients. A second day program in Asheville treats about 16.
Will DeGrauw, day program director at Hinds’ Feet Farm, said that once Puddin’s Place opens, it will be one of only two facilities in the state that integrate day and residential programs. The other facility is located in the Raleigh-Durham area, he said.
Residents can pay for services through private pay, workers’ compensation, auto insurance and liability insurances.
“Interest (in the home) has been tremendous,” Foil said. “Some people who come to us after being sequestered in their homes for years and they’ve lost all social contact. They learn to be people again.”
Foil said every resident comes to the program with a different story. Many were involved with car accidents, while others are victims of brain tumors, physical violence, suicide attempts and strokes.
All patients, however, are striving to find a purpose in life despite their disabilities, he said.
“Everyone has got to find a reason to get up in the morning,” Foil said. “We are helping them ‘refind’ a meaningful purpose.”