by Genevieve Mellott
Anyone who has kids wishes the best for them, and, of course, as parents, we think we know what that is. But what happens when you’re the parent of a child with special needs? Aside from trying to prepare for differences in development and acquiring new knowledge, sometimes it means you must provide essential care for your child throughout their lives. Other times, however, it means your child has something truly extraordinary in store for you. The year 2020 presented the Truitt family of Firestone with that extraordinary something.
When Seth Truitt was born 30 years ago with the condition commonly referred to as Down Syndrome, his parents Marla and Joe didn’t know what to expect. While, biologically, it meant that he literally was born with something extra by way of additional genetic material, as he grew up it also seemed to provide something “extra” in the way Seth blessed those around him. As his mom puts it, “He’s brought out the meaning of life for many people.” The Truitts decided early on to say ‘yes’ to the things he wanted to do in life. “With Down Syndrome you have such a wide variety of skill sets and what the disability will look like,” says Marla. “With Seth, as far back as I can remember, we just involved him and socialized him. We didn’t shelter him. We always involved him in whatever other kids were doing.” So, when other kids were playing or involved in groups or sports, so was Seth, even if it looked a little different.
Around age 18, Seth wanted more independence. He knew he was an adult and felt the need, as we all do at that age, to strike out on his own. However, independence can be tricky for someone with Down Syndrome, and the Truitts were unsure how to make it happen. The thought went on the back burner, and life went on. Five years ago, the family moved to the east side of Firestone, and slowly the idea started to resurface. But what would an independent life look like?
In 2019 they came up with the idea for a tiny house for Seth, a project that became known as “Joy House” because of his joyful personality. It would sit on their own property but be far enough removed to give Seth his own space and independence. They had the plans, and Joe had the construction knowledge, but they needed help. Once word got out that the idea was in motion, the community came together to make Seth’s dream a reality.
Then came 2020. As our community began hearing the phrases “pivot” and “the new normal” and that things would “look a little different,” Seth lost his job because of the pandemic, and his once active social life was all but gone. He experienced the same loss that rocked so many lives in 2020. Was he upset? Of course. In Seth’s honest fashion he remarked, “It’s killing me. It’s too hard. We need to stop it now so we can go out again.” But due to his unique life, he already had the resiliency for doing things differently that the rest of us took all year to learn.
Besides, his home’s construction was underway, which would change not only his life, but also the lives of those who helped make it possible. From donating construction materials and labor to decor and furnishings, neighbors throughout the Carbon Valley and beyond came together reminiscent of the old “barn raising” days to build Seth his home. And according to Marla, who hopes Seth’s journey will inspire others, “Joy House is so much bigger than his house; it’s a dream come true.” The quiet reflection of this particular year afforded Seth time to settle in and appreciate Joy House, which was completed in April with love, gratitude, and a socially distanced celebration. Seth said about his new home, “I love it a lot. I’m just busy taking care of stuff. It gives me faith that others can do it, too.” He added, “I have good parents and good friends and cousins. I love it!”
Seth has learned how to live on his own successfully. He has connected again with friends, and he is gladly worshiping at church. In October, the town of Firestone brought in Via Paratransit to serve the area, which afforded even more independence to Seth. Once, when Marla couldn’t find him, she called him frantically, asking where he was. And like any young man, Seth replied, “Mom, I’m at work. I’m an adult.” He says his new dream is to help others who want to live in their own home, but he realizes, “We need lots of money to make it for them.” The Truitts rounded out the year in December with a 30th birthday parade for Seth comprised of friends and loved ones circling Seth’s new home and then enjoyed a very merry Christmas.
It may sound like this story has a fairy-tale ending. It turns out this is just the beginning for Seth, his family, and many other people nationwide. When Joy House was in the planning stages, Marla documented its progress on a Facebook page and at joyhouseproject.com. She began an online store for Seth’s greeting cards that he creates out of his love of art and people. Suddenly, Marla started receiving posts and messages from others who shared that they also enjoy making arts and crafts. Marla had discovered an entire community of artisans with disabilities. In her heart she knew they needed a voice and a place to shine. After many prayers and plans, Joe and Marla decided to open a gallery for these artists.
In early December, the Truitts received word that a prime retail space was available for rent in Estes Park. Joe, ever the family’s voice of reason stated simply, “Let’s do it.” In spring 2021, Joy House will officially become more than a home for Seth; their new store, “Joy House Gifts With Purpose,” will be a home for handcrafted goods of all kinds created by persons with “special abilities,” as the Truitts say. This one-of-a-kind venue will provide income and self-esteem for the artisans, with funds helping to fuel their independence. As Marla once said about her own son, which applies equally to so many others, “If you put a butterfly in a little space, maybe it will be happy. But if you set it free, you’ll see it fly.” When the Truitts begin this new era, it is then that the dream of Joy House fully will come true.