Carol and Tom Insley are building a new house on a picturesque four-acre wooded lot where they can see the St. Croix River bluffs. When the five-bedroom home is finished, a fireplace will warm the great room and a screen porch will overlook the gardens.
But the Insleys will never live there.
Instead, it will become a small group home for young people living with severe brain injuries.
When it opens in spring, the first resident of Granite House will be their 31-year-old son Aaron, who was injured in a car accident in 2007 and has never regained full consciousness. Their other son, Richard, was killed when the brothers' car hit a tree less than a mile from their home.
Today there are more young people who have survived traumatic brain injuries due to advances in medical care, said Carol. "We can preserve the body," she said. "But we can't repair the brain."
Families of young adults with traumatic brain injuries don't have many housing care options beyond nursing homes — which are mostly geared for aging seniors — long-term care facilities or at-home care, which is a challenge for many parents. Those facilities also lack the individualized services that minimally conscious adults like Aaron can benefit from, said Carol.
"People with brain injuries can respond to sensory stimulation," she said. "Aaron smiles, laughs and squeezes your hand."
In 2014, the Insleys, with Anna Bohnen, a registered nurse who previously provided home care for Aaron, formed a nonprofit organization to build Granite House, "a place for families to gather and heal," said Carol.
The 4,330-square-foot residence in West Lakeland Township south of Bayport is designed to emulate a family-friendly home. The great room looks out over the densely wooded grounds and visitors can roll residents' wheelchairs onto a big screen porch and patio. Staffers will plant sensory gardens in the summer.
The smell of favorite flowers, the sound of music, birds and animals can trigger memories, said Carol. "Fresh air and a connection to their environment is really important."
The 24-hour long-term-care residence, which will house four patients, also is equipped with an elevator, hydrotherapy tub and exercise room.
The Insleys named it Granite House (granitehousemn.org) because Aaron and Richard loved the outdoors and climbed to the summit of Granite Peak in Montana with Tom. "Tom was able to share this incredible experience with his two sons," said Carol.
Now Tom, a retired mechanical engineer, and Carol, a former elementary school teacher, are a team spending endless hours on general contracting details, designing the website, applying for licensing and ongoing fundraising for the nonprofit organization. Many local businesses and contractors have been generous with their time and donations, said Carol.
Three years ago the Insleys had a great idea to improve the quality of life for their son and others that's finally close to becoming a reality.
"Building this house has been energizing," said Carol. "We feel like we're making a difference."