.No One Thought They Could Be Independent — Now, They’re Thriving

Intellectual and developmental disabilities don’t have to hinder a happy and successful life, says Anya Hobley, co-director of Camphill Community in Santa Cruz. At Camphill, workers don’t get a salary, and care doesn’t come at a financial cost. Instead, the residents work to give back to their community in order to support themselves.

“The way that people feel engaged and have a sense of purpose in the community here is different from the run-of-the-mill care,” Hobley says. “People are able to cultivate independence and sometimes it’s a shock for the families who thought that they would be dependent on them for life.”

Some of these workers and residents spend their time weaving, others on papermaking or organic biodynamic gardening. The focus of Camphill is community life, the arts, and working the land. Nestled in the Soquel hills, the community houses more than 40 friends, as residents are called, of all ages and varying special needs and abilities. Camphill staff, known as co-workers, come from all over the world to support the residents and community. The driving force behind Camphill is the idea that everyone has unique abilities and talents and can be independent regardless of mental limitations.

“Working gives everyone a sense of purpose, they are contributing to a larger whole, regardless of their limitations,” Hobley says, while Daniel, a 43-year-old resident with Fragile X Syndrome, pushes a full wheelbarrow across the garden. “It gives their life meaning.”

As with most art, the beauty is in the details. The residents weave lavender satchels, pillowcases and blankets and make recycled paper with flower petals. They grow their organic biodynamic crops from seeds and harvest their grapes as a community. Because of the diverse backgrounds of the staff, Camphill is a mash-up of cultural influences from cottage pie (a British riff on shepherd’s pie) to stories from Germany.

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Hobley has been part of the Camphill movement almost all of her life. Having lived in a Camphill community in Wales and then in Ireland, she says that she feels a responsibility and passion for the meaningful work that she does within the community.

“We have the capacity to accommodate many people regardless of ability,” Hobley says. “If I went to Norway or South Africa, I know I’d have a place to stay there. It’s amazing in that aspect.”

The houses, named House of Ishi, Linden, Siiwiini, Marimi, Aulinta, Sunrose, Chrysalis and Evergreen, are each part of the Camphill Communities assisted living network, a California subcategory of the large international Camphill movement founded by Austrian pediatrician and teacher Dr. Karl König. König was influenced by the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy and the Waldorf education.

Camphill residents begin each morning with readings, often from the Bible (though the community itself has no religious affiliation), followed by a community breakfast consisting of homemade bread or granola, freshly picked fruit or veggie and egg scrambles. They enjoy three meals together daily, each one homemade from their fresh garden produce.

“To break bread or have a meal together is a bit of a foreign concept these days,” Hobley says. “Every meal we make, we cook together, we eat together, we talk together.”

While it may sound like a dreamy vacation for anyone, the residents don’t get to do exactly what they want all the time. They’re on a somewhat rigid set schedule as they give back to their little community.

Camphill also hosts festivals to celebrate holidays and the seasons. They include plays and singing, readings, dancing, and music. While it’s different for each community, the Santa Cruz Camphill relies on 80 percent state funding and the rest is donations-based. Families of those at Camphill do not have to pay for care, though many donate in some way, be it by volunteering their time or with financial support.

For the staff co-workers, working in Camphill comes with free room and board, meals, and chances to make new friends and experience new places. Many co-workers will make their way to other Camphill communities around the world, staying in one place for a year or two and then moving on. Through the Camphill Academy, co-workers in Camphill communities across North America can pursue full-time integrated studies that can culminate in a Certificate of Foundation Studies or a diploma in Curative Education or Social Therapy. Participation in the academy also makes them eligible for an extended visa so that they can continue their work within the communities beyond standard visa limits.

Despite the program’s worldwide reach, many in Santa Cruz don’t know about the community, even though it’s celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Hobley says she’s making a conscious effort to establish relationships and connections with the public locally. In particular, their upcoming farm-to-table event on Aug. 25 as well as their fairs and festivals are a way to celebrate nature connect Camphill to Santa Cruz.

“The farm-to-table dinner is really about creating community partnerships and friendships, and extending that to the local community,” Hobley says. “Unlike other farm-to-table events that are maybe a fundraiser or promote a specific farm, this is to showcase how we live and work in the community and how we can be part of the fabric of the local Santa Cruz community and beyond.”

They expect around 120 people, and while much of the food is grown on their land, they’re also getting outside help from local farms like Happy Boy and Live Earth. They are currently preparing for the dinner, and as the chickens run back and forth and residents tend to the crops, there is a certain late summer atmosphere around the garden.

”It’s about honoring each person’s abilities, rather than being a care provider or a friend,” Hobley says. “Sometimes when new co-workers come in, the friends know more about weaving than they do, and they can teach them. It’s a really amazing balance.”

For more information about Camphill Community in Santa Cruz or volunteer or purchase tickets to their events, visit camphillca.org.


  1. Wonderful article—about a magical place. My brother has lived at Camphill California for nearly all of the twenty years it has been in existence. He has flourished, contributed in the gardens, improved his speaking and communication skills, and now—retired—he is lovingly cared for. He feels safe, appreciated, and loved. Camphill is his home. Although our parents have passed on, and I smile every day knowing their dream has come true. Mine has too.


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