This summer I am working at Gould Farm. There are many ways to describe Gould Farm and to explain what they do but, overall, they are a community that focuses on the rehabilitation of people with specific mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. My time at Gould Farm will be the last coop that I go on and, the more I think about it and the more I consider my experiences here, I can confidently say that this co-op is the best one I have had.
This is a pretty big statement for me to make, considering the lessons that I have learned at my previous co-ops. My first co-op was working on the farm at Antioch College and was kind of my first work experience since I was not the most enthusiastic about working while in high school. That co-op taught me many skills, the most important of which was probably a strong work ethic since it was the first time I really explored what kind of a worker I was and how I could push myself to do even more. My second co-op was the first time I used my work ethic in applied psychology, as I was a paraprofessional educator at Crotched Mountain. There I learned I was capable of a great many things, namely that I could take on a lot of stress as a result of my job, but still come out optimistic, since the work that I did was truly enjoyable. My third co-op also involved applied psychology, except in a more neurotypical context in an after school program in Chicago that incorporated circus arts. I had the opportunity to engage with an entire community in a multifaceted educational program that truly brought us together and strengthened the bond between all of us, which was really apparent in a final performance at the end of my co-op. With all of these great and insightful experiences from my previous co-ops, I wondered what about Gould Farm made it better than not each of them individually, but also cumulatively. After giving it some thought, I realized that it is because I felt that Gould Farm does the best at incorporating each of my past experiences into one cohesive and therapeutic community.
The start of my experience at Gould Farm was at the airport. What I had expected to do was to land in Albany Airport, which is about an hour away from Gould Farm, and then take a bus to Lee, a neighboring town, at which point I would take a taxi to Gould Farm. Much to my surprise, a volunteer from Gould Farm drove all the way up to get me and introduce me to Gould Farm. The drive there was great, the person was very friendly and gave me a lot of information about what I could expect, but I had assumed that this individual, while an excellent person and one of the friendliest people I know, was an outlier. When I arrived and was being introduced to everyone, I was honestly quite shocked by how ready everyone in the community was to welcome and accept me, regardless of who I was as a person. This quality of community, where people are accepting of one’s self, without expecting anything except courteousness and contribution to the community through one of the many enjoyable work teams on the farm, I realize is quite rare.
This kind of community is, in my mind, perfect when considering the intended population of the community, because all members of the community are regarded as equals. This can most easily be seen in the fact that those who are staying for treatment aren’t labeled “patients,” but guests. While there is some hierarchy between guests and staff at Gould Farm, the community is organized as such to minimize the positional differences between staff and guests, using this hierarchy only when it is beneficial to treatment. This different kind of treatment approach has allowed me to compare this co-op to my previous one at Crotched Mountain. While the intended population on Crotched Mountain is different from that of Gould Farm, I can tell that the people at Gould Farm are much happier than the people on Crotched Mountain, and I really believe it is because of the excellent community structure presented here.
As a result, I am really enjoying my time here because I can use my previous learning experiences in a way that combines them, successfully ensuring growth for all members of the community. I am really appreciative and grateful that I have the opportunity to be a part of this community because this has definitely been my best learning experience.
Photo credit: https://gouldfarm.org