As the Covid-19 pandemic shifted and the world cautiously reopened in the year 2022, L’Arche followed suit.
Reopening our doors, gathering together again for birthday celebrations, retreats, important meetings and extended community events. Reopening our strategies and structures, leaning into new processes for collaborating across teams and communities, both domestically and internationally. And reopening our minds, asking hard questions about who we are in the face of crises like war and how we can creatively expand L’Arche impact to those in need.
You, no doubt, experienced your own journey of reopening in 2022. Thank you for sharing that journey alongside L’Arche. Because of your support, the world is becoming a kinder, more inclusive place for all, especially those with intellectual disabilities. You make this possible.
Make known the gifts of people who have intellectual disabilities, revealed through mutually transforming relationships.
There are many ways L’Arche Boston North community member Megan McCarthy might spend her days but, for now, she spends a lot of time in a kitchen making hummus.
“I enjoy making hummus,” she said. “It allows me to spend time with friends, learn new things and build my confidence.”
Our northeastern-most community has grown what was a small program making a Mediterranean treat into a veritable business that sells the tasty chickpea blend at local farmer’s markets. And it’s but one example of how we’re working to reveal the gifts of people living with disabilities.
From growing businesses to showcasing talents, L’Arche in the US made strides this year in bringing the gifts of people living with intellectual disabilities into the spotlight. Backed by the work of L’Arche USA, our members have shared the L’Arche story, represented people with disabilities in a host of settings and grown to become ever more involved in our mission.
Some say Kyla Ponciano lives with a disability. She prefers to offer “differently gifted” instead.
“When I first found out about L’Arche, I thought, …’great … another opportunity to be included with a group of people with disabilities and kept away from everyone else’,” she said. “But my friends at L’Arche are people from all walks of life. Some with what many call ‘disabilities.’ Others who long for inclusion and belonging and friendships that are greater than differences.”
Kyla joined the Larche USA team this year as an engagement specialist. When she’s not calling people to share more about L’Arche and our vision for the world, she enjoys the craft of poetry – built on a love of words relayed by her grandfather.
Systemic failures, ableism, inaccessibility, etc. marginalize people with IDD in society every day. At L’Arche, we do our best to change this, but we have more to learn. That’s why we convened the first ever L’Arche EmPOWERment Festival.
This two-day event aimed to help people living with disabilities to own their power and voice, and to engage like-minded allies in the pursuit of disability justice. The result? A nascent but growing group of committed advocates who, like Kyla, know they have gifts to use and something to say.
“L’Arche sees me for what I can offer,” Kyla said. “My friends at L’Arche see all of me, my abilities and my challenges … just like every one of us has.”
US Together Showcase
From Jacksonville to Tacoma and every point in between, the second annual “Us Together” showcase brought communities and friends together from across the country for an online sampling of talent that exists in our 17 communities from coast to coast.
“I loved that the performers represented different abilities, races, ages …” L’Arche USA Director of Member Development and Learning, Sharon Ryn said. “They stepped boldly (or a little timidly) up to the mic to share their bountiful gifts – whether a song, a joke, a painting, a poem. That is the stage that L’Arche is aiming to set in all we do, wherever we are.”
Foster an environment in community that responds to the changing needs of our members while being faithful to our core values.
Not long after Russian troops crossed the Ukraine border in February of 2022, people began fleeing the violence that erupted into their lives. That includes people living with intellectual disabilities, and those who care for them, some of whom found refuge in L’Arche communities in Ternopil and Lviv.
Viktoria Lysenko and her son, Andrei, were among them. Andrei experiences autism and has intense sensory needs. Travelling with large crowds via public transportation through police checkpoints was overwhelming. But once they made it to Lviv, they found L’Arche – a community of people that completely understood Andrei’s needs. L’Arche helped Viktoria and Andrei to reach safety in Poland, making the trip as smooth as possible for them.
“From the first day we were surrounded by care and attention,” Viktoria said. “It is difficult to describe in a few words how much they did for me.”
L’Arche USA led an effort to raise more than $600,000 to support efforts that helped people living with disabilities and their families to escape war, many fleeing to Poland and other points across Europe.
Even against the backdrop of war, L’Arche continues to evolve with the needs of its members. In 2022, L’Arche USA brought community Board members together to learn and grow from coast to coast. In June, L’Arche USA hosted its first in-person offering since the pandemic. Renew Together brought 14 people from seven communities to meet in Kansas City to reflect on what they’ve lived the last couple years during the pandemic. With the coronavirus threat diminished, we were finally able to bring together assistants for in-person gatherings in Syracuse and Seattle to shape leaders and advocates for inclusion.
Participants reflected on the need for self-care in order to make them better caregivers as they embraced the opportunity to re-connect. One participant wrote they are “taking away a sense of solidarity and connection with other L’Arche communities and the shared call and challenge of what it is to be in L’Arche right now in the life of our country and world.”
In response to the chronic need for assistants who care for our members living with disabilities, L’Arche USA joined L’Arche Canada to launch the “Live L’Arche” campaign – a targeted approach to those who might consider a gap year or career shift by joining L’Arche. Featuring actors who live with disabilities and assistants, the anchor of the campaign is a series of videos that present a fun and engaging view of life in L’Arche, coupled with real-life and candid looks at the blessings and challenges of living in community.
Engage in our diverse cultures, working together toward a more human society.
Members of the burgeoning L’Arche community in Brattleboro, Vermont know something about feeling like an outsider, excluded because of differences.
Experiencing exclusion of their own means it is with especially abundant joy this small cadre of intellectually and developmentally disabled people is among those who will greet new families arriving from Afghanistan as refugees in the coming months.
“These individuals are experiencing a lot of change and are trying to orient into a new culture,” Brattleboro resident Teresa Savel said. “We are part of this expanding community. We’re all in it together.”
Indeed, we’re all in this thing called life …. together. L’Arche communities in Fort Collins, northern Indiana (Michiana), the Twin Cities and Long Island made significant steps towards becoming confirmed communities this year, presenting the opportunity to expand our reach into new areas. At the same time, key supporters and advocates gathered in Seattle for the first gathering of donors and friends since the pandemic’s outset.
A more human society needs leaders who will champion inclusion and community. That’s why we gathered young, up and coming leaders in Washington D.C. for three days of learning, engagement with peers, and renewal. As the leaves along the Potomac began to turn, the fall event blended skills-building, peer engagement, expert input, and reflection to help participants distill their personal leadership stories, and to explore relational and management skills that leaders in L’Arche need to navigate in providing care and building team.