Casas de Vida Nueva to assist mentally ill


Organizers of a project in the works for a decade are working to better inform the public about a planned residential, therapeutic farm community just south of Belen for adults with mental health needs.

Charlotte Back, the founder of Casas de Vida Nueva, began working on bringing the project to life 10 years ago, after she placed her son at Gould Farm, the oldest operating therapeutic farm in the United States.

"I wondered why there wasn't something like that in New Mexico," Back said.

So she and a handful of like-minded people began working to fill that need.

The mission of CVN is to assist people with mental health needs through a comprehensive set of programs to help them develop coping skills that will enhance and expand their daily lives.

Back's hope is that through a sustainable therapeutic farm community, where people will live, have opportunities to work and share, in a safe, caring, culturally responsive and sustainable environment, it will be possible for them to function and live independently.

The CVN facility will be modeled after Gould Farm in Monterey, Mass.

Back said CVN, a nonprofit, has the promise of 15 acres south of Belen that will be donated to the organization for the farm.

The acreage is owned by local farmer and developer Mike Mechenbier, who Back said has agreed to donate the property to CVN when the organization reaches $1 million and is ready to begin building.

While the group is pursuing federal grants, Back asked people to "talk it up" and spread the word about the project and it's funding needs.

"There is a great need for this kind of community in the Southwest," Back said. "Safe, affordable housing for a residential agricultural community."

The Valencia County Extension Office is partnering with the project, Back said.

Back said the office has helped with an agricultural plan for the property, advised what kinds of trees to plant, possible crops to grow and offered to do hands-on workshops for building hoop house greenhouses and "chicken tractors."

Plans for the site also include a vegetable garden, meditation garden and community center.

While the development of this facility would prove to be a "short economic boom" for Belen and the surrounding area, according to Steve Tomita, planning and zoning and economic development director for the city of Belen, it goes way beyond economics.

"You have to look at who it will be serving. Everybody knows someone with mental illness — a friend, colleague, relative or even the face in the mirror," Tomita said.

He spoke candidly, saying he has lost many family members and colleagues to mental illness.

"They gave up, took their life. They had the idea that there was no hope out there," Tomita said.

"Options like Gould Farm and this (facility) provide that hope, help, structure. Many of my relatives could have been helped."

Raised in a small mountain town in northeast Idaho, Tomita said he understand the serenity of life on a ranch.

"You get your head and life together. You start the day with a field full of hay bales and at the end of the day, you see the bales stacked and put away and it's an immediate accomplishment," he said.

"I applaud what they are trying to do. It's important. The help it does, structure it gives. It helps people transition into a new job, new life, new world."

Sam Vigil, executive director and founder of Valencia Counseling Services, said he and his organization were "honored to be involved. I admire these people. They are some of the most persistent I've ever met."

Valencia Counseling Services, which celebrated 31 years of service last month, is partnering with the CVN facility to offer services such as individual and family therapy, medication management and psychological evaluations.

Vigil said VCS also has a have a small housing component, but it's not enough.

"That's why I'm so happy Casas de Vida Nueva is becoming a reality," he said.

"There is so much more need and we try to provide what we can.

"This provides a component that should have been there since the beginning. You can count on Valencia Counseling's support in making this a success, a reality."

Information about the therapeutic farm project can be found on the organization's website,

CVN's next board meeting is from 10 to noon, Saturday, Nov. 10, at Goldie's Restaurant in Rio Communities.

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