Rose Van Wier Hein

Mother. Autism Advocate. Visionary.

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  • Written by
    Laila Samimi

How do you know when your life will open wide? Rose van Wier Hein and her family were having the most ordinary of winter afternoons when her youngest son collapsed from his first grand mal epileptic seizure at the mere age of 2. Justin was shortly thereafter deemed severely autistic.

Ever since that moment, 17 years ago, this determined mother has worked day after day to address an obvious void in the special needs community—the growing demand for special needs housing. The statistics are staggering. Eighty percent of American special needs young adults are unable to live outside their family’s home after leaving the school system. Ninety percent of them will never be able to work a day job.

And the problem is growing. Half a million special needs students will graduate high school in the next five years, and the American system currently has no place for them to go.

“If you want something for your kids, you have to figure out how to go build it.”

For most families, finding a suitable community for their special needs child—an environment that demonstrates a realistic and holistic focus on quality of life with on- and off-site jobs and activities designed around the specific needs of individual residents—remains a distant dream. At most, current care programs provide for not much more than a place to eat and sleep and a TV room for entertainment during the day.

Rose is determined to address this issue. In 2006, she spearheaded the vision of Golden Heart Ranch, a 40-acre permanent residential ranch community in Southern California dedicated to the continued safety, growth and achievement of special needs adults from the time they graduate high school to when they are senior citizens.

To this day, Rose still gets choked up at the thought of it. “As much as I’d love to be here forever for my son, the reality is that one day I will no longer be here to take care of him. I need to make sure that Justin can have a wonderful, full life until he is a senior citizen,” she says. “And I can’t sit back and wait for the federal government or the state to provide it. If you want something for your kids, you have to figure out how to go build it.”

This is no easy task, and Rose definitely has her hands full. But “quit” is a word that does not exist in a mother’s vocabulary. Her whole-hearted devotion to this cause is apparent in her voice, her gestures and her passion. Even her car’s license plate has been specially designed to read “GHR.”

Rose’s eyes light up when she talks about her son. “Every morning I wake up and I look at Justin, and I know I have to do this. It’s just that simple.”

It’s only fitting that adorning the Manhattan Beach Golden Heart Ranch office walls is this inspiring Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”