Tom and Shelley Stafford were both raised in rural Kansas communities and are graduates of Fort Hays State University. While working at a local group home during college they realized they had a passion to see the lives of individuals with disabilities improved through both a meaningful vocation and a secure family environment. In 1979, while Shelley was working as a Special Education teacher and Tom taught Industrial Arts, they accepted the first resident into their private home. With the ongoing support of their family and friends, they were able to welcome more residents year after year. As Tom says, “It is not as if we said, ‘we hereby dedicate the next thirty years of our life to this mission.’ Rather, it was a matter of day after day saying, ‘OK, let’s try this, let’s try this’…until eventually one day we looked around and said, ‘I guess this is what we are doing with our lives.’”
They entered semi-retirement in 2013 now live in their home only minutes from Bethesda. They enjoy working at Bethesda seasonally and every Sunday that they are in town. They continue to impart their wisdom to their children, grandchildren, and incoming staff. Theirs has been a blessed life and they often say, “You can never out give God.”
Bethesda Place is currently the home of six talented men who have spent years living, working, playing, and praying together. The residents and staff of Bethesda Place lead a meaningful life together as they grow trees for local landscaping development, plant and tend gardens to nourish themselves and others, and have created an inspirational community in which “two is better than one.” Together they overcome each of their unique challenges.
Looking at the men’s lives today, it might seem that Tom and Shelley, and the staff that has followed them, know what they are doing and that the men can do anything. But the fact is that Bethesda has been built on a million little mistakes and PURE GRACE. We have dropped building material on each other, our first order of trees were planted roots up, and we break things, EVERY DAY! We have also discovered that just because someone cannot cut with scissors does not mean they shouldn’t use a band saw or that not being able to count to three prevents a person from driving a truck or that someone who can’t walk a straight line can actually drive a zero-turn mower.
Discoveries happen every day. It’s just a matter of, when you see a barrier, you “try a different way.” Sometimes, something beautiful comes out of it, even though it may take a lifetime to see it.
As the current residents of Bethesda Place age, it is their hope that they can encourage others with disabilities, that by following their example of HARD WORK and HUMILITY, they can contribute to the betterment of their communities, and that people will clearly see what great assets they are.
The current directors and staff of Bethesda are the men’s support system to help them reach their goals. Together, we work hard every day to “put our best foot forward.” And each evening we forgive each other for our failings and resolve to serve alongside one another tomorrow, even if our failings are exactly the same as the day before. Our vision is to practice this kind of unconditional love in each other’s lives as long as the Good Lord sees fit to allow us.