The Eden Alternative: Past, Present, and Future

January 09, 2014
Dr. Bill Thomas,

“I remember.” Those two words do much to explain all of human progress, all art, all science, all culture.  It is this peculiar power of remembering that allows us to continually compare the present with the past and, I think, endows us with the ability to imagine a future that might never exist.

I remember a fine May afternoon in 1994. Jude and I drove from the farm to the county seat a half-hour away for an appointment with a local attorney who had agreed to incorporate The Eden Alternative– pro bono.  We waited somewhat nervously for his return from lunch and were ushered into his office about an hour after our appointment was scheduled to begin.  I knew right away that we were in an “LWI” situation but there was not much we could do about it.

“LWI?”  That’s “lawyering while intoxicated” it didn’t take a doctor to know that our friendly attorney had tipped back more than a few drinks during his extended lunch break. It was a red-nosed, bleary-eyed, word-slurring small town lawyer who brought the Eden Alternative officially into being twenty years ago this year.

At that time, none of us would, or could have, guessed that the squalling baby Eden would go on to change the lives of so many people in so many places. The Eden Alternative taught me what remains the most important lesson I have learned during our long struggle to change the world.

“The difference between zero and one is the biggest difference of all.”  I have found that having the willingness (and sometimes the courage) to do something that has not been done before is the critical difference between growth and decay.  We are, all of us, descended from those who said, “I wonder what’s on the other side of that hill? I want to see what lies beyond the bend in this river?” Jude and I didn’t know what was going to happen, we didn’t know how we were going to make things happen, we just knew that we needed to bring The Eden Alternative into being, so that we could share our explorations with many more people. We wanted to share our adventures with you.

There are times when my mind wanders into the future, and I wonder what The Eden Alternative will be like in 2034. I will be 74 years old then– a fine age that I hope greatly to achieve.  My dearest hope is that Eden will be just a memory by then.  I hope that, working together, we will have so completely defeated the plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom that, we are no longer needed,  The Eden Alternative will just fade away.

My more pragmatic side pushes that daydream away, and I shift my focus to the next generation of leaders who are, even now, rising up.  They will soon begin to take the places of Eden’s founding generation. It will fall to them to carry on our struggle and do so with the means and methods that suit them best.

Life really is better in a garden and every gardener must understand and cultivate a respect for the seasons. The Eden Alternative has had, and will continue to have, seasons of its own.  There will be times of new growth, vitality, and abundance and, of course, there will be frost. The most important thing that will be required of us is a persistent willingness to plant again. The difference between zero and one is the difference between a fertile garden and a wind blown and weedy lot.

Eden is twenty years old and it has grown into a fine, highly capable and widely respected organization. We have been blessed with two decades of tender care and the support of countless people. Our message has grown to reach the full continuum of care.  We are ready now to step forward and embrace the work we have been given.  We have long said that, when it comes to age, aging, and the care of elders, “It can be different.”

Today we can proudly and confidently assert— “It will be different.”

Somewhere a (possibly) sober small town lawyer– now well into his eighties– is smiling.

3 Comments. Leave new

and what a wonderful twenty year journey of change it has been! I still think back fondly to my time at Summerhill many years ago when my eyes were opened to this culture change revolution and I realised I had finally found a way to implement the person centred care I had so desperately wanted to see in place for people living with dementia. Thank you Bill and Jude, you have inspired so many and changed so much.


Congratulations on 20 years of innovation and growth! My commitment to culture change started 20 years ago when I was thrilled to learn about Dr. Bill Thomas and The Eden Alternative and then in 1999 learned about the “Nursing Home Pioneers” and have been working to advance culture change in Florida and the rest of the country ever since.


I am a part of the Eden Alternative past, present and future. The past was Hill View Retirement Community in Portsmouth, Ohio. Recall the Video “It’s Better to Live in a Garden.” You wonder, Bill, what the Eden Alternative will be like in 2034 when you are 74 years old. That is my age now and I continue to change elder care through the Eden Alternative. So much for the years ago past. In the more recent past (January 2013) I came out of retirement to serve as an interim manager of St. Luke’s Home a supervisory care licensed assisted living community for low-income elders in Tucson AZ. I stayed and introduced the Eden Alternative philosophy to the people who live and work and volunteer at St. Luke’s. Presently our goal is to transition this traditional assisted living community into an Eden Alternative Interprofessional Academic Center. And so I am planting again. This time I am cultivating Health Science students from the University of Arizona. Medical, nursing, pharmacy and public health students are experiencing resident centered care and self-determination through the elders who mentor them. And they are the future. If I’m fortunate enough to be alive (100 years old) and living in a care community in 2034, I sincerely hope the Eden philosophy will be firmly entrenched and I’ll be able to say “I remember when this all began.”


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