One person's old farmhouse is another person's treasured sanctuary—that can also inspire and comfort community members. That's what Julia Bean, regional manager of operations for Baxter's BioLife Plasma Services business, discovered after she and her husband, Doug, sold their dream house for a farm.
Julia and her family were living comfortably in the home of their dreams, an elegant, state-of-the-art house in Monticello, Iowa. But she and her husband, Doug, felt like something was missing. They noticed that the family seemed disconnected—once home from work and school, they and the kids would spend time hooked to their devices or watching one of their four big-screen TVs in separate rooms rather than spending time together.
They decided to take drastic measures to simplify their lives. In 2010, the family sold their house, gave away their big-screen TVs, four king size beds and amenities from the home's two kitchens, and moved into an old farmhouse, less than a third of the size of their former dream home, located on ten acres of farmland six miles outside Scotch Grove, Iowa.
"People thought we were crazy," admits Julia. "But after settling in, we experienced a certain tranquility and mental clarity out here that was a peaceful refuge. We felt fulfilled in a way that had been missing from our lives."
The family pushed up their sleeves and made repairs and renovations on the farmhouse. Meanwhile, they also took in various farm animals that needed homes or rehabilitation, creating a menagerie of animal residents with quirky personalities.
They had so much fun with the animals—donkeys, pigs, goats, cats, dogs and chickens—and were so at peace on the farmland that they knew they wanted to share the space with others. Julia and her family began inviting individuals from the community to spend time on the property and with the animals, including veterans with mental illness or physical disabilities, the aged, and the lonely. They also began bringing animals offsite to nursing homes and hospitals to visit with patients needing a connection with nature or others.
"Since our background and passion is in healthcare and people, we saw an opportunity to share our joy," says Julia. "We felt strongly that the transformation in us could have an impact on others. This is the place they can find unconditional love and acceptance from our brood."
Visitors are able to use the sanctuary-like space as they'd like—whether it's by feeding the free-range chickens, going on a hayride, watching a movie in the machine shed, star gazing, sitting in a tire swing, taking a quiet stroll, petting a donkey or talking with the family.
The positive reactions from the visiting community members have inspired the Bean family to expand their approach. They plan to add another barn to the property that is handicap accessible and has bunking areas, bathrooms, showers and a kitchen, which they'll make available to community groups for retreats and events.
The family is grateful that their life change has not only enriched their lives and brought them closer together, but also ended up benefiting others in need.
"We have a family motto—'Of whom much has been given, much is expected,'" says Julia. "These little differences we can make in people's lives, it yields so much. Giving and volunteering doesn't have to be costly or involve a formal program. It can start at home with simple gestures of kindness."
Volunteerism a key part of Baxter's culture
Baxter employees around the globe find meaningful ways to contribute time, energy and compassion to local causes and organizations. Whether volunteering for a Baxter-sponsored project, starting their own initiatives, or choosing local organizations and charities close to their heart to support, Baxter employees take community service seriously—in 2013, employees volunteered more than 110,500 hours. Baxter organizes volunteering events near its facilities, provides employees with an online portal to record volunteer hours, and also offers ways to maximize their contributions to 501c3 organizations they support through Dollars for Doers and Matching Gifts. As employees contribute their time, skills and expertise, their local communities benefit.
"We believe that volunteering is an important part of giving back to the communities in which we live and work," says Jeanne Mason, Baxter's corporate vice president of human resources. "And the impacts are wide-reaching—these efforts also provide employees with valuable growth experiences, skills and leadership opportunities."
To learn more about The Bean Farm, visit www.thebeanfarm-iowa.com.