Barr Family

From left, Ron and Nell Baar stand for a photo with their daughter, Milaina Baar, outside of their home on Aug. 16.

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The Baar family has gone on difficult journeys before.

The family from Manhattan went all the way to Albania to adopt their daughter, Milaina, and now, figuring out what to do for their daughter’s future has set them off on another venture.

After they adopted Milaina, who is now 31 and has special needs, people would ask Nell Baar: “You’re not getting any younger, what’s going to happen when…?”

At the time, Baar wasn’t fazed.

“I said, ‘We went halfway around the world to get Milaina, she has me as long as she needs me,’” Baar said. “But it dawned on me one day that Milaina is extremely healthy, and we started realizing our own mortality. And I thought we have to do something to prepare for that.”

So, Baar and her husband, Ron, have teamed up with another Gallatin Valley family to start a farm where adults with developmental disabilities — who often have limited options for care — can live.

The Baars are working on the project with Farm in the Dell International, a Montana-based organization that began in the 1980s with the first Farm in the Dell in Kalispell.

For the Baars, establishing a local Farm in the Dell is their only option for Milaina’s long-term care.

The idea took root nearly 10 years ago, after the Baars took Milaina out of another care setting that wasn’t a good fit.

The family headed to a cabin for the weekend, which Baar spent journaling and processing their situation. She finally came to the conclusion that Milaina needed something “less institutional and more organic.”

A farm seemed perfect.

Milaina, Nell said, loves to spend time outside.

“We’re Montana folk, we prefer something rural and outdoors and organic,” Nell Baar said.

So, a new journey began. The Baars travelled the country, visiting about a dozen programs for disabled adults. The problem: Almost every place they visited required residents to be able to do their own self care.

Milaina does her own self care, but needs Nell to guide her along.

At a farm for disabled adults in Arizona, Nell was hoping to find more information about how they could start a similar project in Montana. An employee there gave her a warning — any project this big would cost millions.

“When we left that place I kept thinking, ‘This is so dumb. What was I thinking? There’s no way we can do this. It’s way too expensive. There’s no way,’” Nell said.

But on the long drive back to Montana, a song from Nell’s childhood started running through her head: “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the wealth in every mine, he owns the rivers and the rocks and rills, the sun and stars that shine. Wonderful riches more than tongue can tell, he is my father, so they’re mine as well.”

Soon, another song entered her mind: “Got any rivers you think are uncrossable, got any mountains you can’t tunnel through, God specializes in things thought impossible, he does the things no one else can do.”

With those two songs in her mind, she went on a walk a few days after they got back to Montana. Her walks are usually when Baar makes time to pray, and that day was no exception.

She was asking if she was crazy for thinking the idea could work when she felt a tap on her shoulder and heard a message, a reminder: “You couldn’t afford Milaina either.”

From that moment, she didn’t look back.

It wasn’t much later that the Baars found out about Farm in the Dell. They visited locations in Montana and have been working with the organization’s founder, Lowell Bartels, on starting one in the Gallatin Valley.

“He can take us by the hand and lead us,” Baar said. “Whenever we meet with him we come away from the meeting feeling like this is really going to happen. He has no question in his mind.”

Each Farm in the Dell starts “from the ground up,” Bartels said.

Bartels said when meeting with families looking to start their own location, he encourages them to set up a public meeting to ask for input, volunteers and donated land.

The Baars are holding a meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9, at the Fellowship Hall of the First Christian Reformed Church on Churchill Road to gauge interest from the community on the project.

Baar said she is hoping the meeting will be pivotal.

“It’s totally a faith walk, and we are trusting that out there somewhere is a landowner that will want to donate the land, and that there are builders who will help us build the buildings,” Baar said.

Mark Henry, who is working with the Baars on the effort, said they feel confident that, with guidance from Farm in the Dell International, they can get a local project off the ground.

“They’ve got the road map already laid out, so it’s just a matter of not getting overwhelmed with all the details and taking it one step at a time,” Henry said.

Henry, whose son Nolan has autism, said the Farm in the Dell model is appealing because it would allow his son to stay close to home and have a safe, productive place to live.

Bartels said Farm in the Dell had some people stay at its Kalispell location for 20 years. It becomes home for residents, Bartels said.

There is a dire need for more support for people with developmental disabilities after they age out of the school system, Bartels said.

“Our country does not face this problem,” Bartels said. “I believe it’s our job, everyone’s job, to care for these individuals once they graduate and need a place to live.”

Though the Baars and Henry are embarking on the project with their two children in mind, they know other families need a Farm in the Dell, too.

“The fact that we found out when we visited other places that they wouldn’t take our two children because they didn’t do their own self care tells me that there’s a whole piece of the population that is not being provided for,” Baar said.

Baar doesn’t have an exact timeline in mind for when they want to have the farm established, and she doesn’t yet know who will step up to volunteer their time, money or resources to help with the project.

But she feels pretty confident that when needed, people will be there.

“I don’t know who they are, but God does,” Baar said.

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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