About Mulberry Village
Mulberry Village’s model of Youth Guidance and Social Therapy is based on a set of core values which find expression in the following practices:
- Offering appropriate post-secondary education coursework
- Providing enriching social activities, including music, art, and self-expression
- Developing personal growth and living skills
- Providing vocational training for meaningful work
- Teaching and supporting self-advocated choices
- Providing forums and skills for self-governance
- Welcoming diversity and eccentricity
- Nurturing lifelong meaningful relationships
- Integrating family and larger community
- Eliminating chaos from the environment
- Promoting respect for the privacy of others
- Providing healthy nutritious meals, prepared and shared “family-style”
- Providing daily curative movement and therapeutic activities
- Maintaining strong checks and balances for full accountability and transparency of programs
By Geoff MacMillan and Doron Sharfman, Co-founders of Mulberry Village
When our son became a teenager, we began to imagine what his life would be like as an adult. We believed that he would probably require some level of support throughout his life. We also knew that his high school education would be insufficient to prepare him for the world, and that traditional post-secondary schools and colleges were lacking in services and programs that could meet his needs.
Through extensive research, we found numerous programs and service providers that competently tend to the basic needs of their clients, but no environment in which a group of young people with special needs were truly learning together, engaged in college coursework and vocational training, and enjoying a vibrant social life. Instead, typically, what we saw was that clients were provided meaningless busywork, were transported frequently among facilities, and were often rendered numb with hours of daily television. Most of these programs had high staff turnover rates and their clients made few personal friends—or if they did make friends, they had little or no means of accessing their friends on a regular basis. Generally speaking, what these programs called “independence” was, in reality, isolation.
Our goal was to find a supportive environment where our son could thrive as an autonomous adult. We sought a college environment suited to his abilities and skills, so that he could transition into his own adulthood just like other young men. With this in mind, we continued to visit facilities around the country, collecting ideas that grew into a vision of what an appropriate campus environment for our son would look like.
The School Years
Our son began his schooling in the public school system, in special education day programs. After three years, we moved him into the Curative Education program at Mulberry Farm at Santa Rosa CA.
Curative Education is based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Schools. In the Waldorf approach, children work from their strengths as a starting point, rather than trying to fix their weaknesses. Instead of zeroing in on deficiencies and attempting to “remediate” them, Curative Education builds on strengths, encouraging children to expand their natural aptitudes. Hence, there are no labels, diagnoses, or discussions about limitations.
The family is an integral element in Curative Education; the educational environment becomes an extension of the family. Expectations are high, and doing one’s best, day in and day out, is required of each child. Curative Education has been marvelous for our son and he has excelled in it. The role of Curative Education was not forgotten in our search for his post-secondary education.
Vision for Adulthood
Thus far in life, the following parenting and educational practices have worked well for our son:
- Removing chaos
- Thinking from his perspective
- Maintaining high expectations
We know that his eventual move from home will be quite different than his brother’s. His brother will go off to college, establish his independence, and mature at a relatively predictable pace. But for our special needs son, this process will take years rather than months. It will require a special peer group to push him gently but continuously toward autonomy. He will need a supportive social network to facilitate his post-secondary learning and model good choices.
Our vision for our son’s transition into adulthood accords with the principles of Social Therapy: looking at the adolescent as a whole person and understanding that for a balanced and mature adult to emerge, all aspects of the student’s life must be steadily cultivated, including social relationships, work ethic, good nutrition, movement and exercise, creativity, high expectations, and independent choices.
Sonoma County California is one of the most vibrant communities in the country. Its residents value hard work, relationships, diversity, and community. Sonoma County prioritizes health, boasting a venerable green history, from biodynamic vanguards to author Jack London, who ran his Beauty Ranch on the principles of organic farming.
Today you can bicycle to farmers’ markets and beyond, tour sustainable farms, learn about spring wildflowers on a hike, watch egrets fish as you kayak through wetlands, and learn organic gardening. These features of local life are fully incorporated into Mulberry Village’s curricula, vocational training, and community living.
At Mulberry Village, Staff is not a term we use, because it connotes a superior/subordinate relationship with students. More precise terms are Co-worker, Teacher, and Dorm-parent (hereafter collectively signified by the acronym “CTD”). A CTD is different from a staff person, as is illustrated by the respective characteristics listed in the two columns below.
Staff / Counselor / Caretaker / Guardian
|Mulberry Village model
Co-worker / Teacher / Dorm-parent
|Works with clients||Works with peers|
|Makes decisions and enforces||Promotes consensus and understandings|
|Outside the community||Community member|
|Symbolizes hire, fire, resign, turn-over||Signifies long-lasting relationship|
|Guardian or caretaker||Helping friend, teacher|
|Superior class||Equal class|
|Duties come from outside community||Duties determined within community|
|Money is motivation||Community and education is motivation|
|Defined duties “job description”||Flexible duties “what needs to be done”|
|Prefers routine, repetition||Encourages thought and appropriate action|
|Defends positions||Welcomes new insights|
|Calculated, events must be categorized||Intuitive, each event is unique|
|Supports compliance, encourages dependence||Encourages self-advocacy, supports beliefs|
All CTDs are required to receive training in Curative Education and Social Therapy. A four-year training program provides long-term CTDs with the educational, practical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual tools and insights necessary for living and working with young adults who require extra support. Short-term Co-workers are trained on-site in Social Therapy, or trained by sister organizations.
Essentially, Social Therapy teaches that a healthy social environment—one in which all community members make contributions according to their ability—is critical for adults with developmental disabilities, if they are to develop the skills they need to live productive, independent, and joyful lives. Social Therapy is the art and science of establishing the appropriate roles and conditions for this form of community to thrive .
Our Board of Directors
President: Geoffrey MacMillan
Geoff is the founder of Mulberry Village. He earned his undergraduate degree from Columbus State University in Columbus Georgia, and a law degree from New College of California School of Law, a public-interest law school. He has been a member of the State Bar of California since 1997. Geoff has enjoyed a multifaceted career, and currently works with his partner in the jewelry industry. He became impassioned about Curative Education and Social Therapy because of how successful these approaches have proven for his son Nate.
Secretary: Doron Sharfman
Doron is the owner and President of Aluma USA, Inc., a jewelry manufacturer in Santa Rosa, California. He was born and raised in Israel, and has witnessed the remarkable success of Waldorf education, Curative Education, and Social Therapy as it has operated within the Israeli kibbutz system of community. As a result of these methods and practices, many young Israelis with learning or developmental disabilities have achieved well-being and fulfillment. Doron is Geoff’s domestic partner and Nate’s “other” dad.
Our Advisory Board
The members of the Advisory Board have been invited because of their unique experience, talent, associations, and knowledge. Each member brings a needed expertise to ensure that Mulberry Village incorporates the very best elements of a residential college, while comporting to all federal, state, and local regulations.
Teacher and Founder of Mulberry Classroom and Mulberry Farm
Expertise: Anthroposophy, Curative Education
c/o Geoffrey MacMillan
2171 Joy Road
Occidental CA 95465