I wrote about my experience with Cornerstone Housing Society and L'Arche earlier this year, and you can see that post HERE.
L'Arche communities are homes for adults with intellectual disabilities who live with assistants in family-like settings. L'Arche - French for 'the ark' - was founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier. Today it is an international federation with 149 communities worldwide, 29 of which are in Canada. There is, however, not yet a L'Arche community in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Cornerstone Housing Society is a Newfoundland-based incorporated charitable organization that is run by volunteers. Cornerstone's vision is to establish and sustain a L'Arche community in the St. John's region.
The opening event was held at the MUN Medical School Lecture Theatre, and included a keynote address by Raphael Amato.
Raphael Amato has been a L'Arche member for 30 years. As outreach officer for L'Arche Ottawa, Raphael has been actively involved in disseminating the mission, vision and values of Jean Vanier and L'Arche in the National Capital Region with the aim of fostering a more human and caring society.
Raphael presented "Lessons from Sharing Life with People with Developmental Disabilities". He spoke about learning from people with disabilities, mutual relationships, transformation through human encounters, and challenging society and organizational structures.
Raphael stressed the fact that L'Arche homes are not group homes, but instead they are a community of people who care for each other. He spoke eloquently about the difference between caring for someone and being in a relationship with someone, saying that if all you do is take care of a person, you are missing something! We learn fundamentally from each other, and I know from experience that there is so much we can learn when we share our lives with others and embrace each other's differences.
Sarah believes in the value of community and she has a desire to live and encourage authentic relationships across difference. Sarah presented on the model of care on which L'Arche is based, to demonstrate the unique features of L'Arche that you don't find in other services for people with disabilities. She described the conventional care model vs. the mutual care model, and explained that relationships are the foundation of mutual care, and the mutual well-being of both people who are involved in the relationship is considered.
"These relationships allow people to overcome some of the dominant conceptions that we have about people with intellectual disabilities, and about disability in general, so we're going from looking at the disability to looking at the person and beyond."
Sarah believes, as Jean Vanier does, that "L'Arche serves as a sign for our society that there is a different way of living, that you can live with people who are very different from you and that can be a very beautiful thing."
She closed by saying, "Mutuality in relationships across difference is a meaningful endeavour that searches to empower and uplift all members of the community. L'Arche isn't about people with intellectual disabilities alone. It's about every person who belongs to that community, and so it's as much a worthwhile thing for me to do as it is for anyone else."
Also on the panel was Krista Simmons, an emerging artist and Core Member of L'Arche, who just celebrated her 10th anniversary as a member of L'Arche Saint John. She is passionate about community, working hard and staying healthy. Krista was happy to make her second trip to Newfoundland, and to share the impact that L'Arche has had on her life.
Cornerstone Housing Society also hosted a L'Arche Community Day at Rotary Sunshine Park. This event showcased many of the activities that would take place in a L'Arche home, such as storytelling, music-making, arts and crafts, and time spent together just getting to know each other.
We had lots of fun singing songs, painting fish, and making some new friends! We always feel very welcome when we attend meetings or events with Cornerstone Housing Society. They have embraced my family with open arms, and there is a sense of worthiness - of being loved and feeling a great sense of belonging in a community where we are recognized for who we are. I was glad to see such a large turnout to the events this past weekend. It shows that people are interested in creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities and for families like mine. Parents just want their children to belong, and that is the core of L'Arche communities. Everyone belongs. Everyone is treated with respect, and kindness, and compassion, and that is exactly what I want for my son.. and for our society as a whole. I try to educate people about disabilities, but the reality is that we learn more about each other through living together and recognizing that every single one of us has areas that require help and support.