Still ravaged by the pandemic, 2021 was a year of challenge and growth for L’Arche in the United States. L’Arche USA exists as the connective tissue between 20 L’Arche communities in the U.S., and nearly 150 L’Arche communities worldwide. L’Arche USA resources, coaches, nurtures and accompanies our community members, distilling learnings and knowledge for the good of the movement. Our work creates the power to achieve the changes that we need to create a more inclusive, kinder society.
“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.” — Thomas Merton
This year 2021, just like the year 2020, was not one of certainties. We did not know what was happening or where it was all going. But we did see possibilities and challenges. And yes, our L’Arche movement is strong in courage, faith, and hope.
Thanks to you, our friends and partners, L’Arche USA continued to grow in 2021. We found new ways to connect using technology. We continued to invite people with intellectual disabilities into leadership. And while still navigating the uncertainty of the pandemic, we were able to build capacity that furthered the movement that is L’Arche in the U.S.
Our communities have shown remarkable resilience in meeting staffing constraints, pandemic restrictions that forced adjustments in daily life, challenges to building community beyond the front door of L’Arche homes, and more. Yet, I remain heartened by the ways our communities have not only met but mastered many of these challenges. The resilience we have gained from serving during a pandemic is only matched by the skills we have learned and by the spirit of community we have shaped. I celebrate the courage of our leaders, the faith of our members, and the bright light of hope that is L’Arche’s mission.
And I celebrate you. Our partners and friends, donors and volunteers: thank you for investing your “you” to build a more inclusive world. I hope this report inspires, leads, provides answers, and, maybe most importantly, raises questions.
Yours in partnership,
Executive Director/National Leader
“When I came to community, I felt a little shaky,” Judi says. “After the shakes were done, I got adjusted,” she says in our new animated series.
Judi speaks about what community means: having friends. Being kind to one another. Sharing. While these may be the building blocks of many communities, L’Arche communities are different. Globally, each of the 150 communities that are part of L’Arche is as different as the people in them. And yet, they are very much the same, too.
Community is where the individual meets the collective – where the “me” joins the “we.” L’Arche USA brings together efforts in the U.S. to share, learn and grow – as a community. We help all our existing and emerging communities to be, and to become, L’Arche.
In this tumultuous year 2021, L’Arche in the USA continued to allow and call people with and without intellectual differences to live together in community. From L’Arche Atlanta in Georgia to L’Arche Wavecrest in California, we reflect a combined $38 million effort to build communities so people like Judi feel like they belong.
Our goal is to support existing communities while growing L’Arche as a movement in the U.S. L’Arche efforts in the Twin Cities, Ft. Collins, and the renewed effort South Bend, all established deeper roots in shaping their boards of directors, web presences, and community engagements thanks to L’Arche USA support. L’Arche USA also collaborated with the emerging community in Frederick, MD. to help it navigate the complexities of renovating a house into a state-regulated group home. And while Richmond works towards more fully establishing their community beyond the home model, we are able to ensure local leaders can apply best practices learned from other L’Arche USA communities.
Yes, each community is different. Yet there is immense power in learning, growing, and doing L’Arche as a collective. When the pandemic’s economic fallout challenged our communities, L’Arche USA leveraged learnings from L’Arche Chicago’s experience in seeking federal payroll protection, offering training and learning opportunities for other U.S. communities. Our six Communities of Practice bring people together to learn and grow in diverse areas, from assistant coordinators to fundraisers. Joined by a new effort to create and share resources in the online space, L’Arche USA regularly brings community leaders together, to connect and to grow.
Life together is made richer when our communities reach ever more for the goal of diversity. That’s why in 2021 we kicked off a series of projects aimed at improving diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. The ultimate goal of this critical work is to make L’Arche a space of belonging for everyone – not just a majority.
Nearly a dozen L’Arche communities welcomed new chairs to their boards in 2021, and more than a half-dozen welcomed new community leaders/executive directors. Such transitions are critical to maintaining community and fostering momentum. L’Arche USA helps ensure continuity in leadership transitions that keep L’Arche as a movement in the U.S. alive.
Our efforts as L’Arche USA all point towards a brighter future for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, from Seattle to Boston North, Judi’s L’Arche community. We ensure Judi is able to live out the ideals of L’Arche community while also working towards a more inclusive, kind, welcoming society where transformational relationships can take root and grow. We aim to create a world where no one is dispensable, or an afterthought. It is the world we are called to shape and to share, an environment of belonging rooted in the concept of community.
“Community means friends, to be kind to one another, to help others feel good,” Judi said. “I belong here with other people.”
L’Arche is a movement of growth, of transformation, of evolution.
We invest a lot of time in presenting opportunities to look beyond the day-to-day, to reflect on what has been and prepare for what is to come. As L’Arche USA exists to bring the “me” and “we” together, 2021’s pandemic shifts invited us to connect ever more intentionally, and – nearly exclusively – virtually. Highlights from 2021 include:
A highlight of the 2021 efforts to connect and grow is the first online festival of learning and reflecting. This two-day online festival beckoned 140 participants from 18 communities and seven emerging groups.
Spirituality is a pillar upon which life in L’Arche is built. While L’Arche began as a movement rooted in the Christian Gospel, today’s L’Arche is reflective of as many and varied faith traditions as one might imagine. Pat from L’Arche Cleveland likes that L’Arche welcomes everyone, regardless of faith tradition.
What does this mean for everyday life in L’Arche? It means bringing spiritual and emotional grounding to living life in community. It means making sure we give one another space as much as comfort when it is needed. Living life intentionally in community can be challenging even under the best of circumstances. Even when a pandemic and a labor shortage present huge obstacles, this work fosters resilience by keeping our spiritual center strong. Pat, from L’Arche Cleveland, likes how L’Arche honors many spiritual traditions . “You take everyone and that’s good!” he says.
Freedom to pursue spiritual practice is foundational to us. So, too is the idea of freedom itself. Our founding story is one of freedom, where people living with disabilities were able to break free from the confines of institutionalization to live fuller, richer lives in community. Freedom to become, to grow and change, is integral to L’Arche’s vision for the world.
“L’Arche helps me to grow better,” Eileen says.
We envision a world where people like Eileen, living with intellectual disabilities, are free – just as free as the rest of us, not restricted by how society perceives ability. L’Arche is a movement for freedom – freedom to seek fulfillment, freedom to explore, freedom to grow.
Our growth as a movement is only as good as our impact, and how we define it. In 2021, we published the first-ever L’Arche USA Impact Report, a qualitative and quantitative analysis of eight intended impacts of L’Arche’s work. Six communities came together with L’Arche USA to explore the ways L’Arche helps transform the lives of its members — the “core members” with intellectual disabilities as well as the “assistants” who live alongside them. The effort was made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
“What makes this project so powerful is that it will help L’Arche members to better understand what makes their communities so transformative — and what they can do to nourish and expand the virtues they see as central to their life together,” says Sarah Clement, the John Templeton Foundation’s Director for Character Virtue Development.
The report revealed 28 findings about living life as part of a L’Arche community, ranging from gaining a better understanding of what it means to provide care and compassion, to the impact of L’Arche on personal character development, to understanding self-worth and articulating the challenges of living in community.
The findings will help us to learn and to grow, just like Eileen has. In addition to learning how to speak up, Eileen has a bank account and a debit card – two developments that she says define her freedom.
“I am saving now for clothes,” she says with excitement. “If you don’t speak up for yourself, how can other people help you?”
Tyler names the people in his community: David. Mike. Tina. Lily.
But the kind of community that welcomes and loves Tyler doesn’t just happen. David, Mike, Tina and Lily are friends with Tyler because his L’Arche community exists, and creating L’Arche community costs money.
L’Arche USA enjoys a range of financial support, from foundations to private, individual donors to the basic membership fees each L’Arche community pays. L’Arche USA made significant changes in 2021 to how it engages supporters and raises funds – combining the communications and development teams, hiring a new leader for both and its first full-time staff member aimed at engaging and sustaining private foundation relationships.
Our goal is to demonstrate how you – the financial partner, the supporter, the advocate, the member – make this work possible. It is a shared effort, one we build together that points to a kinder, more inclusive world for people like Judi, Pat, Eileen and Tyler. This kinder world, this more welcoming world exists only as a concept today. However, every time L’Arche communities connect to learn and to grow, every time L’Arche USA is able to bring together a disparate group of advocates and supporters into connection and community, we chip away at the world that is. And, bit by bit, that kinder world is revealed.