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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A bold idea forms over sandwiches

The culmination of great ideas is often serendipitous. Sometimes creation occurs in quiet ways, such as ideas written on a paper napkin in a café. Such was the case for Ted and Betsy Merchant, Ashley Kim, Denise Longo and Rob Tribken.

They were having lunch at Jersey Mike’s in La Cañada discussing their dream of establishing a loving home for young adults dealing with developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. They’d been meeting for several months defining and redefining their vision. They planned to build a home for people 22 and older who have those disabilities.

German philosopher Goethe said, “Until one is committed there is hesitancy!”

Ted Merchant, chairman of the nonprofit corporation Villa de Vida, asked a rhetorical question. “Are we doing this? Are we moving forward? Is this a dream or are we throwing our hands around and having lunch?”


Creation reached a crescendo. At that moment the visionaries committed. They would build a home of life and love, where young adults with developmental disabilities would feel safe, live a meaningful and whole life, and have human connections.

Goethe expressed, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”

Typically, older developmentally disabled individuals live at home with their parents as caregivers. They vegetate in their rooms and have few friends.

“No one wants to live alone,” said Longo, executive secretary of the foundation. “They wind up in institutional environments called the ‘warehouse phenomena’ whereby their only value is a ‘hot and cot,’ a meal and a bed. We’ll help them live whole lives.”


The home will be modeled after Casa de Amma in Orange County. “People live in community. Each person is valued with interests and a propensity to connect with others,” Longo said.

“It’s apparent that at Casa de Amma the residents have a life and are proud to share it,” said Ashley Kim, the Villa de Vida’s executive director. “There, a parent remarked, ‘Casa de Amma saved my family’s life.’”

“The dog is out and we’re moving forward.” Merchant said. “We’re ready to find the property; design it; build it; then occupy it.”

Currently, Villa de Vida, whose office is in Pasadena, is looking for a home for the 45-apartment development. It’s not an easy task since suitable space inclusive of a secure environment is at a premium in Southern California. Since Aladdin is nowhere to be found, they’re building their own dream.

They ask that you join them by showing your support. Their plight is similar to throwing a pebble into a still pond, concentric circles move outward. Perhaps such a circle will encompass you. There is an opportunity to become part of this burgeoning idea steeped in altruism. Show solidarity. Visit their website, Awareness relative to the plight of the developmentally disabled makes you part of the solution and supports this endeavor. Check them out!

I had a million questions for them; they gave me two million answers. I was inspired by their devotion, focus and their unimaginable energy. They are undaunted and ingrained with a sense of altruism enabling them to accomplish extraordinary things.

I asked Longo, the mother of a developmentally disabled adult, what the most important comfort associated with her dream is. She responded, “Hope! To cure the desperation of parents.”

At that moment in our conversation, I got it.


“What is your driving motivation?” I asked the group.

Merchant responded, “There is a value to having a gracious heart and that’s what drives us.”


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at