Homes slated to open in 2016 and 2017
In a unanimous decision the L’Arche USA Board of Directors voted to welcome two new projects—communities soon to open their front doors. The vote was followed by applause and a few misty eyes.
“This is the result of hard work, faithful prayer, thoughtful reflection, and an abundance of energy, commitment, and endurance,” Tina Bovermann, L’Arche USA’s executive director, wrote in her official letter welcoming L’Arche Long Island and L’Arche Metro Richmond to become official projects of the national organization.
Indeed, each of these dreams to build a L’Arche community has been at least five years in the making. This vote brought them one step closer to full membership in L’Arche USA and International Federation of L’Arche.
L’Arche communities in the United States provide homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers, create inclusive communities of faith and friendship, and transform society through relationships that cross social boundaries. At the heart of L’Arche are the adults who have intellectual disabilities—known as “core members”—and the relationships that arise from a shared life.
During the “project” stage, the two new communities will focus on implementation of the strategic plans they designed in the pre-founding period. This stage also includes: identifying the people with a disability and assistants to be welcomed; beginning fundraising in earnest; establishing relationships and agreements with government agencies and other organizations; and deepening contacts with local religious leaders and groups.
Cheryl Emory has been with the group involved in starting L’Arche Metro Richmond from the beginning. She and her daughter Virginia, along with mother-daughter duo Marybeth and Anne Meacham, were introduced to the idea through a video about L’Arche. When the video was over, Virginia and Anne exclaimed in unison, “I want to live there!”
Joined by a third mother-daughter pair, Ann and Hannah Penny, the group visited L’Arche Blue Ridge Mountains in Southern Virginia. “We experienced something unique and precious that was missing in our area,” Emory said.
According to the United Cerebral Palsy Case for Inclusion, Virginia ranks forty-first out of all fifty states and the District of Columbia in how well State Medicaid programs serve Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. States are ranked in four categories: promoting independence; promoting productivity (as evidenced by satisfactory lives and valued social roles); keeping families together and reaching those in need; and tracking health, safety, and quality of life. In addition to its low ranking, the report concludes that 6,672 Virginians are on a waiting list for residential services.
While L’Arche alone cannot meet the demand for housing, it does aim to inspire other providers and society as a whole to see those who have intellectual disabilities as gifted and valued people with something to offer.
“L’Arche is a role model of respect, dignity, and love—it’s an inspiration that multiplies far beyond the home,” Emory said.
Valerie Slonecki also noticed that L’Arche was offering something different from the other models of residential support for adults who have intellectual disabilities on Long Island. After her first meeting with the start-up group, launching L’Arche was at the top of her priority list.
It also resonated with Joy O’Shaughnessy of East End Disability Associates. As Director of Immerging Services, O’Shaughnessy was looking for ways to connect with faith-based initiatives for people who have intellectual disabilities.
“We’ve done a good job exploring individuality in so many ways—volunteering, work, living in environments that are comfortable, exploring sexuality—but people were afraid to touch spirituality,” she said.
Thus was born a partnership between L’Arche Long Island and East End Disability Associates that will bring together L’Arche’s 50 plus years of experience in community-building and East End Disability Associates’ expertise in New York State Office of Developmental Disabilities regulations.
O’Shaughnessy said that New York’s new, self-directed model for funding allows each person to make his or her own choices about how their Medicaid dollars are spent. Previously, people would often enter the system in crisis mode and be “plugged into a slot—sometimes that slot was a great match and sometimes it was not.” Now, she said, “we build the supports around the person, their needs, interests and desires. That’s why L’Arche is such a good match.”
O’Shaugnessy’s team will help facilitate the budgeting process for government funding and keep detailed records to meet State requirements. L’Arche will do what it does best—provide a community where each person can grow, is celebrated, and can give and receive love.
“At the very core of my passion for bringing L’Arche here is the assurance of dignity for every core member, and the possibility of that culture of dignity spreading beyond the community house,” Slonecki said. She serves as vice-chair of the Long Island board, said they anticipate having a home renovated and move-in ready by the end of summer 2016. The board is actively searching for a founding executive director.
According to Emory, Metro Richmond plans to open its doors to core members by September 2017. The group is currently assessing properties and will look to hire an executive director in late 2016. To inquire about living at L’Arche, prospective core members who have a Medicaid waiver should be in touch with their Community Service Board support coordinator, and can request being added to L’Arche Metro Richmond’s list serve for information and updates.
Bovermann has made growth a priority for L’Arche USA. “With each new community comes not just quality care for adults who have intellectual disabilities but real, life-changing friendships for people of all abilities,” she said.
L’Arche USA is currently working with start-up groups to launch L’Arche in five new cities, offering expertise and guidance in the areas of strategic planning, fundraising and communications, understanding government regulations, and best practices for building a healthy, sustainable community.
Bovermann said the L’Arche USA office receives inquiries every week from others who long to have a L’Arche community nearby. In 2016, she plans to expand the national office’s capacity to respond to these inquiries.
L’Arche USA is part of an international federation of L’Arche communities that seeks to make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities, revealed through mutually transforming relationships. There are more than 145 L’Arche communities in 35 countries, including 20 in the United States.
In 2015, L’Arche founder Jean Vanier received the Templeton Prize, valued at $1.7 million, and honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. Vanier believes that those who have intellectual disabilities, when fully welcomed in society, can be sources of healing, joy, unity, and peace in our world.
—Bethany Keener, L’Arche USA Communications Manager