RAYMONDVILLE — After seven years of planning, Joe Wetegrove has developed Willacy County’s first retirement community.
La Jarra Ranch Senior Living is nestled amid nature trails on a 500-acre ranch passed down by his great-great-grandfather Edward Burleson Raymond, founder of Raymondville.
The center, featuring an assisted living area, memory care unit and activity hall, stretches across 12 acres of his family’s historic ranch about a mile east of Raymondville on State High-way 186.
“We focus on keeping people active both mentally and physically to help them lead a healthy life-style and stay healthy,” Margaret Allen, the development’s project manager, said yesterday. “Our objective is to keep them active and out of the nursing home.”
In this farming area, the retirement center is a needed economic engine nearly three years after the closure of the 3,000-bed Willacy County Correc-tional Center slashed a third of Willacy County’s $8.1 million general fund budget, spurring 400 em-ployee layoffs.
So far, the center has hired 25 employees, including nurses and nurses’ aides.
Within two years, she said, an additional 15 employees are expected to be hired as part of the facility’s planned expansion.
Last month, the center opened its assisted living facility and memory care unit, each featuring eight apartments.
Now, the center is await-ing a Medicaid contract before it opens the activity hall.
So far, the center’s nature theme has helped lead four residents to move in.
“It’s a nature preserve,” Allen said. “It’s very therapeutic. It’s stimulating to your senses.”
For years, the natural sanctuary has lured birders and eco-tourists to its pristine ranchlands.
“We try to incorporate nature as much as we can,” Crissy Santana, the center’s community relations director, said. “It’s the middle of a ranch so it’s kept that ranch feel.”
The historic ranch house stands next to a butterfly garden.
Residents take guided walks along a network of nature trails surrounding the center.
“They take walks to see birds, butterflies and turtles,” Santana said. “They see different types of species of birds and learn about birds.”
The center plans a second phase to feature an independent living area expected to open within two years, Allen said.
“We have a lot of plans because our goal is to keep our residents active,” she said.
Allen said the development’s second phase is projected to create about 15 more jobs.