top of page

About Brian

Joan Van Gasken and her husband Mark turned to VOA to help Mark’s autistic brother Brian, 68, live independently in a safe environment after a lifetime at an institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Brian has always needed special care. As he got older, habits of pulling his own hair and banging his head against a wall was troublesome. Today, a permanent indentation remains. But pulling his mom’s hair, particularly one day while she was driving a car, became too extreme. Too dangerous. By the time Brian was 10, doctors recommended he move into a setting like Rainier School in Buckley to help with these behaviors born of frustration with communicating his needs to others.

Marguerite, Brian’s mother, often made the 1-1/2 hour drive to pick him up, then 1-1/2 hours back to Camano Island, so he could enjoy a stay with her that might last for a few days or weeks. This ritual lasted for several years. As Marguerite aged, and when Rainier School began to close activities like woodshop that Brain loved, finding a closer place in a home-like setting became a priority.

In May 2019, Brian moved into a residential facility for adults with developmental disabilities, managed by VOA in Skagit County. Marguerite was pleased at this development and enjoyed her last 5 months being closer to him. In October of that year, when she passed away, his Support Professional, Lisa, helped him navigate this significant life change.

Since then, Brian has gained skills like cooking and setting the table, which was always done for him at Rainier. He was able to get his front teeth – lost there years ago – replaced, and he’s proud of his smile. He recently went shopping and picked out his own recliner and sofa, another first. And since Joan and Mark are close by in Bellingham, they pay a visit every other month to take him out for his favorite milkshake.

Regional Director of Support Services, Jess Kiepe, says “VOA has given Brian the power and choice for picking out items for his home like his recliner, [and he] works on his garden with his staff and makes sure to water the plants every day.”

Joan expresses her gratitude for giving Brian opportunities for independence. “His communication skills have improved... He often talks in full sentences now. Brian would say ‘go home,’ which meant ‘go to mom’s house.’ The other day he said, ‘go home,’ and then he said, ‘I am home.’ Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.”


Brian’s story of hope is one of many that might not be possible without VOA. With your help, we can continue to support clients with developmental disabilities. To donate, visit

35 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page