SHERIDAN — The development of Sheridan’s Green House Living elder care facility has been documented by an Academy Award-winning videographer. The film, which is yet to be made due to a budgetary snag, has been promised air time by Wyoming’s Public Broadcasting Service.
Dale Bell, who studied theater at Princeton University and was an associate producer for the documentary feature “Woodstock” in 1970, has followed the community-based initiative to establish the program known today as Green House Living for Sheridan since its inception.
Bell became attached to Sheridan during the summer of 1955, when he came to Sheridan looking for work at the age of 17. He landed a job at the Meade Creek Ranch in Story.
However, not long after his arrival, Bell was involved in what he calls a horrific car accident in which he was the driver. He and his three passengers lived through the ordeal, and Bell was struck then by the community’s forgiveness of him despite his mistake.
“As a result of being accepted and really given a rebirth in Sheridan, I thought in 2002, when I came back again, that I had an idea and I could contribute to the community as sort of my gift back,” Bell said.
By that time, Bell had made several documentaries intended to incite social change, and had become a national spokesperson for issues related to caring for the elderly. Simultaneously, the community of Sheridan had started an initiative to bring a new model of elder care to the community.
Green House Living for Sheridan Sage Barbara Walter said though the idea of an updated model for elder care is not unique to Sheridan, the way it came here is.
“There are now 150 Green House cottages in our country, but we are the only one — the first one and still the only one— that built this complex just from a grassroots effort just because people knew we can do better than what we’re doing,” Walter said. “Other Green House cottages were either existing nursing homes or they had a religious affiliation so they could get some funding. We had nothing.”
Bell followed a small contingent from Sheridan that traveled to Tupelo, Miss., to tour a Green House Living facility there with the goal of bringing a new concept for elder care back to Wyoming. While a group of community organizers and activists started to make the Green House come to life in the community, Bell followed along with his video camera during key developments.
“I thought that maybe I could, on my own money, come to Sheridan with my video camera and chronicle this brilliant, practical, spiritual journey the citizens were embarking upon,” Bell said of his initiative to begin the project titled “Homes on the Range.”
“I followed them when they came to Laramie to the governor’s conference with Dave Freudenthal. I put the camera in front of Dave and told him I would be watching,” Bell said.
Walter said the documentary will share the new concept for elder care that is being implemented at the Green House cottages in Sheridan.
“We’re not warehousing them to wait to die,” she said. “We want to show them respect and give them as much dignity as possible.
“We don’t look like an institution, we don’t wear uniforms,” Walter added. “We try to keep it so it has natural light, plants and books.”
Today, Bell has plenty of exclusive material to tell Sheridan’s story.
“What happens when you make a film is you gather a lot of data — hours and hours and hours of stuff,” Bell said. “I’ve never looked at it. It’s in a shoe box. I want it to become film. Editing takes more time and money than I’ve got personally to put into it.”
Bell estimates he’s put approximately $20,000 worth of travel, time and equipment into the project, and is hoping to secure sponsorship while he completes the endeavor. He has secured status as a nonprofit.
Walter said she had always hoped to help Bell fund the documentary, but until recently, the activists associated with establishing the Green House were concerned primarily with raising funds for the cottages themselves. Today, the facility accepts Medicare and Medicaid and is operating above 95 percent capacity.
“We’re now at a place where we feel it’s time to give him a vote of confidence,” she said. “It will cost $25,000 for the first edit, but then we’ll have a product to take to Wyoming Public Television.”
Walters added there will likely be opportunities to sell the documentary to other stations after it airs on Wyoming PBS.
“They have allocated extra time around it so they can do a live call-in program,” Bell said, adding he hopes to have the funds raised and the documentary complete for a launch in January.
Walter said she believes the film will bring extraordinary attention to Sheridan and the broader call to raise the bar for nursing homes across the country.
“It’s going to educate the rest of the county on an alternative to a traditional nursing home,” she said. “I think in the hearts of everyone, when dealing with their family members or caring for elders, we all want to do the right thing. These are the people who taught us in school, they’re our grandmothers, our mothers and our dads. They’re everybody that we love, so we’ve got to do a better job.”
“I believe this example of Sheridan is like a tree falling in the forest,” Bell added. “If no one is there to hear it, no one hears it and it goes into eternity silent.”
So far, the Homer and Mildred Scott Foundation has pledged $5,000 to help with the total cost of producing the documentary. Other funding efforts have so far totaled $2,000. Green House advocates are still working to raise the remaining $18,000 to get the project finalized.
Donations toward the production of “Homes on the Range” are tax deductible and can be mailed to Wyoming PBS Foundation, 115 North 5 East, Riverton, WY 82501.
Sheridanites interested in learning more about the local Green House cottages can call 672-0600.