Print The Olive Branch inspires creativity
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 02:17
Before Chris Veller found himself a new home off Aztec Road in Lake Montezuma, he had an inventive idea.

He whipped out a napkin and sketched out an idea for a side car he could attach to a bicycle and stuck it back in his pocket. And there it remained for eight months, because he didn’t have an outlet to try and bring his idea to life.

Olive_Branch_1At least he didn’t until he moved to the Olive Branch, an assisted living community that has helped meet the needs of adults with developmental disabilities for nearly two decades.

Last week, Veller was proudly showing off his fully functional foot-powered cycle complete with a metal frame welded to the side.

“I carry just about anything in there,” Veller said.

“Making something like this was just something he had never had the opportunity to do before,” Dana Peterson said. Peterson has worked with the Olive Branch for several years. “He showed me what he had drawn and I said, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’”

Giving these men more independence then they’ve ever know is part of what the Olive Branch is all about, Peterson said, and Veller’s bicycle project is far from the only thing keeping them busy.

Some of the residents work in the wood shop making furniture and other items for personal satisfaction and to sell to help subsidize the cost of living at the Olive Branch, a collection of residential properties that has expanded over the years to become a close-knit community. The group takes in adults of different ages and gender, but currently consists of a group of men aged 39 to 79.

Last week, the residents were more than happy to show visitors one of their most recent projects, a “rat rod.” The rat rod, powered by a lawn mower engine and capable of reaching around

40 mph, is, in the best rat rod tradition, a functional Frankenstein of a vehicle.

Welded together from the parts of an old pickup, a Toyota Celica and a golf cart, the purple metal monster sports a homemade chainlink steering wheel as well as just about a homemade everything else.

Olive_Branch_2The idea for the rat rod began when one of the Olive Branch’s founders, Steve Howell, was looking to find some sort of motorized wheelchair to get around, Peterson said.

“The thing was, though, that he wanted something that could go in reverse,” Peterson said.

Staff and residents worked hard on the rat rod, scavenging parts where they could and coming up with innovative solutions to get things to work out. The day it was finally finished a year ago was unfortunately the day Howell passed away.

Today, Howell’s wife, Cyndi, carries on as the program’s director.

The auto shop at the Olive Branch is a favorite spot for many of the residents who love learning how to work with all things mechanical and metal, Peterson said, and especially love being given an opportunity to have a place to bring their creativity and ideas to life. It’s also an ideal location to keep the residents occupied when the Arizona summer sets in, Peterson said.

The group takes the rat rod around to different car shows, Peterson said, but it’s still a work in progress. Currently, the team is looking to find the body of a 1930s-era pickup truck to incorporate into the rat rod’s design.

“Most of those [trucks] end up as decorations in someone’s garden,” Peterson said, “but we’re still looking.”

Nearby, resident Bob Davis contemplates the feasibility of attaching a trailer he helped build to the back of the rat rod.

“We’re gonna need a hitch,” Davis said.

The rat rod was far from the first project undertaken by the residents of the Olive Branch, said Peterson, a man who has been “building hot rods since I was a teenager.”

The residents have also worked on a 1950s Ford pickup that was another dream of Howell’s. This one, he did get to drive.

“He just never thought he’d get one because of everything he invested to run this place,” Peterson said.

Another one of the group’s vehicular creations was shown off in a hot rod magazine, and Peterson said the editorial staff has told him to just let them know when they’re finished with their next project.

It doesn’t particularly matter the type of project that comes out of the shop, Peterson said.

“The biggest thing for these guys is the sense of accomplishment they get,” Peterson said.