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MAN HAS LEARNED how to erect skyscrapers with computer controlled environments. Institutions, museums, hospitals and condominiums mete out cost-efficient square footage in artful designs of wood, marble and gleaming steel.

But with all of man's ingenuity and creativity, there's one design he's never been able to improve on - the home.There is a magic intangible in the dynamics of a family that cannot be captured by recreating the surroundings. A home, however humble its circumstances, can do things no institution, no matter how sophisticated, can do.

A "home" approach is the key to the successful operation of Deseret Village in Spanish Fork. The village is a dream come true for families with mentally handicapped children.

The village concept was devised by a group of parents who decided to accept and act on the fact that their mentally handicapped children would probably outlive them - the caregivers.

There are state-supported and private institutions that can house and feed - but who could continue the family standards, the moral and religious traditions of the families?

The parents agreed to pool resources and build men's and women's residences, and plan a multipurpose center. Residents would not have to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but would have to agree to live by its standards.

A three-acre parcel was purchased in Spanish Fork, and the homes were constructed with volunteer labor. Each residence is 4,000 square feet, and the two are joined by a common exercise area for neurological development. Deseret Village is distanced from the city proper in a rural setting where green fields spread out on all sides and the peaks of Mount Timpanogos frame the valley on the east.

When you walk into the foyer of the women's brick residence, a skylight bathes the foyer with warm sunlight. And from there, the home never stops shining.

The trend in care centers is to make the surroundings homelike. But this is really a home. Oak trim and a fireplace dominate the tidy living room. Hanging throughout the home are oil paintings donated by local artists. The kitchen has a job chart on the wall: set table, clean front hall, take out garbage, vacuum, clean washroom area; and a large oak table that seats the eight residents and the home stewards, a married couple that oversee the life in the home and have their own apartment within the residence.

Each woman has her own room with a basin and vanity and shares a bathroom with another resident. The bedrooms reflect individuality, with the only common element being tidiness. One room has brightly colored Japanese parasols hung from the ceiling. Another showcases a collection of stuffed animals arrayed neatly on a ruffled day bed.

Three of the residents are in their early 30s and three are in their 50s. Life is much like that in any other home. All the residents have jobs either at Central Utah Enterprises, a sheltered workshop, or at the Brigham Young University dairy farm, Deseret Industries, Mountain View Hospital or the Provo Temple. They must rise each morning, dress, tidy their room and eat the breakfast they prepare on a weekly schedule. The home stewards prepare dinner.

Social worker Betty Olsen is waiting when they return in the afternoon. She directs a program unique to the village - neurological development. "We believe that when they are born, there are developmental patterns that are skipped that help the brain function properly," she said. As neurological development occurs, there is a corresponding potential for academic achievement. After months of special exercises on a mini-trampoline, a stationary bicycle with arm exercisers and a balance beam, resident Jackie Sproul correspondingly works on learning to read while Sherrie Fugate is learning to write in full sentences.

Olsen says that one young woman with Down's syndrome has one eye turned in, but as she has done cross-pattern exercises - crawling, creeping, skipping, hand-eye coordination and drawing circles - her eye has begun to turn back to the normal position.Fugate did not like to go down stairs before she started the patterning. Standing 2 inches above the floor on a balance beam was terrifying. Olsen explained her progress: "She has learned to feel where she is in space. Now she can go out on the balance beam and even walk backward with just my fingertips 2 inches from touching hers for support. Her fear is gone."

In the men's residence, Scott Zwick came from South America, where his LDS mission-president father and mother were serving. The 20-year-old man was in trauma - no one spoke English, he simply couldn't cope. His grandmother, Faye Johnson, tells with pride how he has settled into life at Deseret Village. "Everyone in Spanish Fork knows Scott," she says. "They all say `hi' to him. This is his time. He has adjusted really well.

A lifetime room for a resident is bought much like a condominium, and living expenses are met through Social Security and work salaries. There are gardens to tend, birthdays to celebrate,

movies, videos, dances and bowling. At church, two women are Primary teachers and two of the men are LDS elders.

"While we are the least expensive of any place I know, we couldn't keep this place going without the help we get from people in Spanish Fork and organizations like the Utah California Women," said Olsen.

Thankfully the days of merely "warehousing" the mentally handicapped are over. It is everyone's dream to let them live a normal life. But to let them grow, to see them functioning with dignity in a home with responsibilities and the accompanying pride in their achievements - that is the dream come true.

The affable Zwick spent half an hour one morning helping his quiet friend Lynn Nulph, who rarely speaks, iron a shirt. The iron was left too close to a laundry basket and before the two knew it, the shirt had an unexpected plastic iron-on and Nulph was so flustered he started to leave for work wearing only his T-shirt. Michelle Yanez, the young college student who is home steward in the men's residence with her husband, Fernando, called Nulph back and got him into his shirt before he left. "When he came home," she recalled, "he ripped open his jacket and proudly said, `MY shirt, MY shirt.' "- Donations to Deseret Village, a tax-exempt organization (EIN No. 94-2620974), are deeply appreciated. More information can be obtained by writing: Deseret Village, P.O. Box 722, Spanish Fork, UT 84660, or by calling 798-3937.