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Expanding the Notion of Family: A former L’Arche Community Leader’s reflections

Headshot of Eileen wearing red jacket.
John Cook, former L’Arche GWDC community leader, offers a unique perspective on friendship & family this giving season.

By the time John was in his late 20s, he had moved 30 times in a span of 15 years and found himself craving a sense of home and rootedness. He had been working as a small business manager, direct care person for people with schizophrenia, a high-powered lawyer, and found himself facing pressures of pursuing an intense career.  

“I had moved back to Washington DC after traveling the world and living in different places because when I was 29, I had an existential crisis, when I realized that I really wanted to find or create a sense of home and family for myself. I thought it would happen through this church but that wasn’t what happened.” 

On his walk to work each day, John would pass by one of the L’Arche community homes in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC where he would sometimes step in to seek respite after a work lunch or intense meeting. 

“I knew I needed to get away because everything there was endless amount of stuff to do, needs to be met, responsibilities, and I knew I needed to take a break… I’d be dressed in my suit and tie,  going between meetings that seemed really important at the time … One day I just knocked on the door of L’Arche, and Eileen greeted me with a warm hug, and I just kind of folded into her.  A sense of peace and overwhelming sense of warmth and love, which was just not part of the rest of my day, came over me.” 

 The desire for these moments of quiet acceptance, seeking solace from a hurried world, continued to intensify for John during his days as a lawyer. 

“I eventually transitioned out of Big Law and became the community leader for L’Arche GWDC. It was just hundreds and possibly thousands of these little moments, like with Eileen, when I gradually realized that the home and family that I had been given and drawn into was L’Arche.”  

This awakening continued to grow after John took on his new role at L’Arche. 

“There was something in me that just knew L’Arche was the home and family that my heart wanted. It was this growing awareness that true love was essential familial, and this sense of commitment where we say, ‘For better or worse, in sickness and health, until death do us part…’ At some point, we say to people, ‘I’m with you no matter what,’ and L’Arche helped me expand my understanding of family. I continue to learn the reality that everyone, that all life, is essentially family.” 

Today, John gives to L’Arche in honor of Eileen, and other long-term friends like Fritz, who he goes on vacation with each year.   

“If we think of our friends as people we can talk to and have intellectual conversations with, people to play pickle ball and volleyball with, and not people who aren’t able to do those things, we limit ourselves to this idea of what ‘fun’ is… But maybe the fundamental essence of a friend isn’t necessarily what we talk about. It’s just being together, often in silence or simple moments, with someone who leads you to places inside that you didn’t know existed, who opens up something new in you… You relax and settle in a way where you discover something in yourself that maybe you didn’t know before. You realize that people with and without intellectual disabilities can be good friends who travel and enjoy life together. Friendship takes a promise and commitment to being together and being open to the moment whatever that brings… more often people with intellectual disabilities are more open to being in the moment; it’s more often a feeling of surprise and often not the routine.” 

If you’re also finding yourself yearning for a kinder, more equitable, and a different way of being, befriending, and investing in the world, consider giving in honor of someone who has shaped your perspective this season. We’d love to hear your story! 


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