When most teens hit high school, their parents start seriously talking to them about the future.
When Therese Vafaeezadeh’s daughter, Sabah, turned 12, her parents already were thinking about her future. They wondered how they were going to continue to engage and challenge their bright and beautiful daughter when high school ended. That’s because their daughter is non-verbal and navigates the world in a wheelchair, depending on others for much of her care. But she is a good listener, attentive, and a social butterfly at heart. Being around others brightens her days, her mom said.
When kids with special needs turn 21, they no longer can attend high school. And when Sabah’s parents searched and could not find a fitting place for their daughter’s next chapter in life, they created one.
They called it the Tavon Center, a day program in Issaquah that opened in 2008. It’s an inspiring place that empowers people to use their abilities and reach goals. It’s an encouraging, motivating, and forward-thinking organization, and a reflection of its founder and biggest cheerleader Therese Vafaeezadeh — who is the 425 magazine Citizen of the Year.
“It (Tavon Center) gives a very meaningful place for young adults with disabilities to go, be accepted, challenged, and valued. As a parent of a client, I am incredibly thankful for Therese’s efforts that have helped to create a full and meaningful life for my adult daughter,” said mother Cathy Wise, who nominated Vafaeezadeh for the 425 Citizen of the Year award.
“Therese has provided a safe and enriching program for young people with disabilities to come to every day of the week,” said another mother, Mary McLoone, whose son attends the center. She also nominated Vafaeezadeh for the honor. “My son loves the family atmosphere and he has learned so much here.”
The Tavon Center began with a lot of research in 2003. A nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital for more than 30 years, she said most of the programs available for her young, vibrant 20-something daughter were geared toward more of the geriatric crowd. “She’s incredibly social, she loves a good party,” her mother said. Young people — disabilities or not — usually don’t want to hang out
with old people.
Sabah’s parents began dreaming of what the Tavon Center might be. They learned about other organizations that were doing similar things they had in mind — Victoria, B.C.’s Providence Farm and Lambs Farm in Chicago are both great examples.
Tavon Center opened on six acres of wooded land it’s been leasing and is now in the process of being donated. It’s a cheerful place where 65 people attend programs each week from cities near and far. There is a long waiting list to get in.
The center is in a large, accessible one-story home with a welcoming front porch. There is a black cat named Licorice that lives there. On the wall is a giant painted mural of a tree, and a picture of all of the participants.
There are detailed and colorful chore charts, too. Everyone has a job to do at Tavon, from meal-planning and prepping (on this rainy day, tomato soup and grilled cheese was on the menu) to feeding the baby chicks and collecting and washing eggs.
The greenhouse work is popular, especially watering plants and mixing dirt. They were prepping Mother’s Day baskets, and planting and snipping lettuce to keep the supply of greens plentiful for their lunches. The participants take field trips, sell plants at farmers markets, visit exhibits, and volunteer at food banks, hospitals, and more. Some have went on to find jobs after developing their skills and confidence at Tavon.
They even do laundry. Happily, most of the time.
“They do laundry here and then their parents are like, ‘They don’t do that at home!’” said Tiffany Bennett, a program aid who has worked at Tavon for three years. Just more proof that young people of all abilities butt heads with parents. Bennett gushes as she talks about her career that she loves so much: “We are like family.”
And when most people talk about the Tavon Center, the conversation inevitably turns back to the woman who started it all — Therese Vafaeezadeh. And when you talk to Vafaeezadeh, she inevitably turns the conversation back to her family — and her oldest daughter, who planted the seed. Sabah, like all young people with special needs, deserves a special place to not only grow, but also flourish.
425 Citizen of the Year Award
Therese Vafaeezadeh’s 425 Citizen of the Year award will be presented at the Best of 425 Party on April 28. Vafaeezadeh was among many noteworthy people who were nominated for the honor by our readers. Learn more about Tavon Center.