Shirley, of Sheltering Tree

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Another divine appointment I’ve had in my quest to develop an inclusive urban farm came through my new mentor, Carolyn Anderson. She emailed me one day with this directive, “You need to meet Shirley”. I didn’t question her and found time to meet Shirley for coffee. Shirley McNally and her late husband decided to create a space for their fifth son, Mikey, who was born with down’s syndrome. The first residence they built had 10 individual apartments with a large common area, kitchen and game room. When they told Mikey that he was going to have a new place to live at Sheltering Tree, he was not interested. Mikey told his Mom that he didn’t want to live in a tree house.


I visited the latest residence built by Sheltering Tree in March. This one, near 72nd and Ames, is where Mikey lives now. I met him and visited his apartment. His apartment has space for him to work on projects, draw and color. It has a nice living area, small eating area and large bedroom and bathroom. When I was there, Mikey was getting ready to do his laundry.

The calm and peace throughout this Sheltering Tree community was soothing. It reminded me of my first visit to a L’Arche setting in St Louis several years ago. Everyone was engaged and purposeful in their activities. I could only think of the many others who would benefit from having a space to call their own home and also have support when they need it.

When Shirley and I first met in December, she was enthusiastic about a new property that Sheltering Tree had just received. Someone donated a large portion of a farm near 180th and Fort street to their non-profit. The rest of the farm will be developed into 450 or so new homes.

Fourth Sheltering Tree Residence and Farm to be created just above the intersection on this map.

Fourth Sheltering Tree Residence and Farm to be created just above the intersection on this map.

In addition to another Sheltering Tree residence, Shirley wants to create a community farm. She envisions space for Sheltering Tree residents to connect with other new residents, to work and learn together on a farm. When we meet, we discuss how we are going to create a learning farm that will not only create community but produce food that residents that enjoy together. Since both of us have a Montessori educational background, we agree on learning exploration and how to create an environment that encourages this.

Each meeting goes long as Shirley’s quick laugh, sparkling eyes and contagious enthusiasm encourages great discussion. She’s another gem in Omaha, working to break down the barriers from the state and public opinions that keep specially abled people marginalized.