Vine Village, Inc, Napa, California - Serving People With Special Needs Since 1973


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Vine Village
From a hired hand 

It's hardly visible from the highway,
but once wandered into it,
you won't want to leave.
It's like happening on
a cool pristine spring
when your canteen runs dry
or like a friendly village
after miles of wilderness.
Seldom is heard there
a disheartening word.
The people are like family.
When nobody wants you,
they will take you in.

 - Dennis Johns
Vine Village's Poet Laureate















Vine Village, Inc. is a 501c(3) non-profit organization located in the Napa, CA Wine Country

Tax ID: 23-7296716    Telephone: 707-255-4006     Fax: 707-255-8431  

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Vine Village's Raison d'etre, Debbie Kerson, shows her father and Vine Village co-founder, George, her Special Olympics trophy

In this section we'll take a look back at our financially-strapped but enthusiastic beginnings, and trace Vine Village's changes and development over the years. So far this is a definite Work-In-Progress. Contributions and suggestions are eagerly solicited. Email us if you have contributions to make to this effort.


1972 - Prelude 

1972 old sonoma road entrance.jpg (21111 bytes)
1972 - Horse ranch at 4059 Old Sonoma Road for sale
1972 hillway hike.jpg (24087 bytes)
1972: A realtor shows Grace and Nancy the back road around the lake.
1972 - back of what is now mens house.jpg (20078 bytes)
This became the backyard of the Men's House
1972 chicken-goat barn.jpg (22790 bytes)
Today, this shed houses Melissa's goats and Tucker's ducks
1972 green barn.jpg (34342 bytes)
The Big Barn 
1972 hilltop view.jpg (23243 bytes)
View from the hilltop - Can you believe there was once a paved road to the top? How quickly Nature reclaims Civilization!
1972 lake2.jpg (24364 bytes)
The irrigation pond
1972 now conference room area.jpg (20993 bytes)
This little apartment became the "school" room in the late 1970's, and was replaced in the mid-1990's by the Josephine Haas Conference Room
1972 now womens house.jpg (18957 bytes)
The Women's House looks much the same - only today's tall Colorado Spruce was not there in 1972
1972 now the llama pen.jpg (26961 bytes)
Horse sheds and pastures occupied what is now vineyards and the Arts Building
1972 now ceramix.jpg (14226 bytes)
This building was originally used as storage until it became the Ceramics & Woodwork studios in the mid-1990's
1972 now ceramics barn.jpg (15871 bytes)
Front view of the building that is now the Ceramics and Woodshop Building



George and Grace Kerson's daughter, Debbie, was getting ready to graduate from St. Vincent's School in Santa Barbara, CA, and they were concerned by the paucity of choices for her as a young adult. During this time they visited Camphill Village in New York, The Lambs in Chicago, and various kibbutzim in Israel. These  experiences got them thinking about creating new opportunities for Debbie and others like her. 

They wanted Debbie to have every opportunity and encouragement to continue to grow and learn, and they wanted her to feel safe, secure, and valued. They envisioned a residential program that would encourage continual learning and the development of as much independence as much as possible for the individual, while also providing needed support and assistance. They wanted a True Home with close family-like human relationships. They wanted opportunities to feel valued and useful, and to perform meaningful and relevant work, regardless of an individual's abilities or disabilities. Most of all, they wanted an atmosphere of Respect and Dignity for all individuals. 

A rural or semi-rural location was sought, so that self-support programs such as gardening and vineyard farming could be conducted. Since Debbie was an ardent horse buff, they also wanted a place where horses and similar pets could be kept.

In the early 1970's, there were only a couple of choices for a person with developmental disabilities. There was the State Hospital, there were a few scattered private institutions modelled after the State Hospital in many ways, and there was living at home. ( This was the early days of the Lanterman Act, and Group Homes were just starting to be created, but the Kersons and Bagnanis did not choose these for their children.) 

The State Hospital was out of the question for the Kersons. Having Debbie live at home into her adult years was also undesirable, for a number of reasons:
       1. It would keep Debbie forever in "Little Kid" mode, maintaining old patterns of dependency and lack of autonomy.
        2. A forced out-of-home placement in later years, due to a parent's perhaps sudden incapacity to continue to care for Debbie at home, would be most traumatic.

The Kersons wanted to be proactive. They wanted moving out to be a positive step that Debbie could view proudly as a milestone of growing up, just as her older brothers had moved out on their own when they became young adults.

A like-minded friend was Dante Bagnani. One night in the autumn of 1972, George presented his ideas to Dante. Without a moment's hesitation, Dante replied, "Let's do it!"

So they began looking for a location for their dream program. In December, they put a down payment on a beautiful horse ranch in the Carneros region of southern Napa County.

This property was purchased from Frances Stearns\Coronap Corp in late 1972.

Timeline for the '70's | 1972-74 | 1973-74 Newsletters | 1974-76 | 1976-77 | 1978-79 | 1980-89 | 1990-99 | 2000-2009