Mustard Seed Village Prepares to Open After Months of Delay

The first assisted living campus on the Key Peninsula hopes to welcome residents any day now as staff trains on new approaches to care and cooking.


The Mustard Seed Village, a new nonprofit assisted living home on the KP, had its grand opening for the public November 12 and expected to welcome its first residents in mid-January. Unanticipated delays in state inspections and paperwork pushed that date back into April, but hope runs high the doors will open in May or June.

“I don’t think we had a realistic expectation of how long the state process would take,” said Eric Blegen, executive director of The Mustard Seed Project which built and oversees the Village. 

“We completed our license application in the beginning of August (2022), and we heard back (from the state) the first time maybe three months after that when they asked for some more paperwork,” Blegen said.

And then there were two more rounds of paperwork.

“This is all a good process that the state has because they want to make sure that only people who are qualified and authorized have access to the people who live here,” he said. “They went through credit checks, background checks on all of our board members, for example, and they didn’t even ask for that until March.” 

And then there were long gaps between requests for more information.

“Every time they asked we got it back to them in 24, 48 hours, but then we would wait for them to ask for more,” he said. “But, finally, in March they said that’s it, we’ve got everything we need, and they notified the state fire marshal.”

The fire marshal conducted two inspections and required more paperwork before approving the building April 11 and informed the Department of Social and Health Services that the Village was cleared for a final state inspection.

Blegen said his prior conversations with DSHS staff indicated the Village should pass without further delay. He expected an inspection any day, and “Once we get through that, they issue our license to operate. We’ve been through everything else.”

The Village consists of three homes in a single longhouse situated on 5 acres across the street from TMSP office, called the Crandall Center, overlooking Key Center at 9016 154th Avenue Court NW. Each home can accommodate 10 elders in private apartments with bathrooms and kitchenettes surrounding common areas and kitchens, with gardens and trails outside. Nine rooms are reserved for low income elders, and one home is dedicated to elders requiring memory care.

The Village will be managed by Concepts in Community Living according to the Green House Project principles of assisted living, under the supervision of TMSP.

Denise Mecartea is working as executive director of the Village, but her title is “guide.”

“We’ve got 25 rooms spoken for,” Mecartea said. “We have the first home all staffed and ready to go. One or two residents will move in over a week, or as it goes. In the meantime, we’ve been inviting them and the families to lunch, and they’ve brought in a few belongings and are getting to know us, and that’s just a wonderful, positive thing.”

The Village will have a staff of 22, now at 10, including a full-time nurse, with a minimum ratio of one shahbaz to five residents.

In the Green House model, caregivers are called shahbaz (plural shahbazan), a Persian word meaning “royal falcon” from an old story about a magic bird that takes care of a village. They cook and provide housekeeping and laundry services, but will also deliver a different standard of care than the average assisted living home.  

Across the street at the Crandall Center, TMSP is also preparing to open its commercial kitchen to prepare meals for a new snack bar and home delivery to elders. Nutrition Director Carolyn Benepe is in charge of that, as well as supervising meals prepared in the Village.

“We’re ready to go,” she said. “I just hired a kitchen assistant, and we already have 12 volunteers who want to be the people in the snack bar. Because I’m a dietician it’s going to be kind of healthy, but more delicious than anything else.”

The south room of the Crandall Center has a snack bar and large sitting area that will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday, once it passes the last inspection. 

“We’re going to have breakfast cookies, yogurt parfaits and smoothies, but smaller sizes than you’d find in other places, more portioned for the older adult,” Benepe said. “Once a month we’ll have brunch and bingo to start, and then by fall we’ll probably have it every Monday because that’s the day of the week our other senior center (KP Community Services) does not have a meal.”

The kitchens in the Village will follow a menu plan that can evolve with resident input, she said.

“We’re getting the shahbazan ready to make meals right there in the home in real time, every day, cooking for 15 people,” she said. “We hope the food will have the reputation of being excellent.”

Residents can work in their home kitchen too, such as by setting or clearing tables or making their favorite recipes, “if they get their food handler’s card, which is easy,” Benepe said. “We’re just there to assist, and they get a lot more say in what the meals are because we’ll meet as a group and talk about what they want.” 

Before moving to Vaughn two years ago, Benepe worked for years as a senior center director and as a dietician for a Green House home in Wyoming.

“My dad spent the last year and a half of his life there,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that where I had just moved to here had this same cool thing happening. Just being in this space is such a special feeling of home.”

“I can’t wait for the people to move in so I can do my job,” said Cindy Wilkerson, one of the new shahbaz. She has been a certified home health aide for over a decade.

“Usually the approach is basically skills, how to deal with people’s bodies,” she said. “Here, we empower our elders to do the best that they still can with dignity, respect and privacy.”

That can be as simple as respecting an elder’s wishes about their own schedule. 

“With an institution, you’re told, ‘Go give Mr. Jones a bath,’ ” Wilkerson said. “Well, maybe Mr. Jones doesn’t want a bath right then. Fine, we’ll do it when he wants. He doesn’t want to get up for breakfast at 8 a.m.? Fine, we’ll have a breakfast waiting for him when he does get up. 

“And they are not referred to as patients or residents or clients, they are our elders. It’s a great concept,” she said