If you live in the Greater Boston area, the name DeScenza is synonymous with diamonds. But fewer people are familiar with the impact the DeScenza family is having on individuals and families impacted by autism and developmental disabilities. In addition to their diamond business, the DeScenzas are helping to develop Farmsteads of New England, a growing community in New Hampshire aimed at empowering people with disabilities by providing transitional and long-term supports and services.
A Brilliant Idea
Alfred F. DeScenza started the family diamond business in 1915 from a one-room store in the Washington Building in Downtown Boston. By 1946, his son Fred DeScenza and son-in-law Hugh MacIsaac had joined, and spent 70 years as partners at the helm. Today, the fourth generation of DeScenzas have taken on leadership roles and continue their legacy as one of New England’s most respected sources for GIA and Forevermark certified diamonds, as well as designer jewelry, Swiss timepieces, and exquisite gifts. By 2000, DeScenza Diamonds had grown to four major freestanding stores spread across eastern Massachusetts.
When Deborah DeScenza, an educator and third-generation family member, learned her son had been diagnosed with autism, she turned to her family to ensure her son and others were given the support they needed to live meaningful and satisfying lives.
As she will tell you, “Most great ideas are born from experience teaching us that there are service gaps to be recognized and needs to be filled.”
Farmsteads New England
The idea for what would become Farmsteads simmered in Deborah’s mind for several years. With nearly 20 years of experience in special education — working as a teacher, program coordinator, and consultant — she was familiar with the challenges people with disabilities faced as they matured into adulthood. As these challenges neared for her own son, she began to think creatively about opportunities that would be both suitable and rewarding for him. In considering the things he liked to do and the settings in which he was comfortable, a farmstead was a natural fit. Deborah knew the rural environment, work with animals, an creative activities were things her son could enjoy, and she wanted others with autism and other developmental disabilities to be able to enjoy the same opportunities.
In late 1999, Deborah began working to make her dream a reality. Farmsteads of New England, Inc. was formed. In 2003, the Rosewald Farm in Hillsborough, NH, became the first location to provide services. In 2009, Farmsteads started providing day services at a leased site in Epping, NH, and then in 2017 acquired its second property in Epping named Redberry Farm.
Farmsteads provides day programs as well as clustered living, where each resident is provided a one-bedroom apartment complete with kitchenette, bathroom, and living room, giving the privacy and freedom of an adult lifestyle. Additionally, 24-hour assistance and one-on-one support from mentors are available as needed.
“A farm is a beautiful setting and a nice way of life for the right people. And young adults need to be able to work and engage with one another. Our goal is to prevent isolation; I believe there is power in numbers,” said Deborah.
All in the Family
Fred DeScenza, Deborah’s father, will tell you that his family’s dedication to supporting philanthropic causes started long ago, beginning with his father. Today, Fred believes that even as a relatively small benefactor, it is important to give to smaller, local charities that do the most needful work - as well as to medical research facilities such as Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
It was only natural that when it came time to bring Deborah’s idea to life, Fred and his wife Shirley were eager to pitch in. Fred helped acquire the property for Farmsteads and, in the early days, would spend Friday through Monday working on the farm helping the individuals learn to grow vegetables in the fields while Shirley served breakfast and worked a full day in the office as secretary and fundraising chairperson.
“It was truly a family project,” Fred recalls.
Looking to the Future
The fulfillment Deborah feels from providing so many young adults with opportunities hasn’t diminished her drive to do more. And the need is evident: they have a waiting list of more than 100 individuals hoping to live and work on their farms.
“The need is there,” Shirley says, “so it is important to us to be able to provide Farmsteads with the stability needed to grow.”
“To see the residences go up, and the smiles on people’s faces, and the variety of skills needed on the farm being developed is wonderful – it’s a real family environment,” adds Deborah.
Farmsteads of New England Inc. (Farmsteads) is dedicated to empowering individuals who have autism, developmental disabilities, and others with varying abilities to pursue their chosen path to live a meaningful and satisfying life by providing transitional and long-term supports and services in a rural environment that fosters growth, interdependence, and self-confidence. Farmsteads is a 501(c)3 Tax-Exempt Nonprofit Corporation.
For an organized approach to giving back with impact, be sure to check out our 5 Steps to Philanthropic Giving at bostonprivate.com/PhilanthropicGiving