About Town: L'Arche Celebrates 40 Years
"To be human is to be bonded together, each with our own weaknesses and strengths, because we need each other.?
Jean Vanier once said: "Those we lock away and think worthless have the power to teach and even to heal us. We are all 'broken' in some way. When you start living with people with disabilities you begin to discover many things about yourself. To be human is to be bonded together, each with our own weaknesses and strengths, because we need each other."
Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, which is an organization that enables people with and without disabilities to share their lives in communities of faith and friendship. All the individuals in the community work together, eat together, pray together, and play together. The organization's core mission is to work towards a more humane society, one that embraces diverse cultures and changing needs, and those in the community believe that persons with disabilities possess inherent qualities of compassion, welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship, and they recognize the unique value of every person and their need for each other.
Laura Hunter, development director for the L'Arche Erie explains all this and more. "Our niche is that we are a community of faith, and although we've grown to be more ecumenical [universal] in that mindset, it is something that sets us apart from other agencies. We are an intentional community – living together on purpose and for a purpose – to give everyone a better way to live."
L'Arche was founded in 1964 in Trosly, France. Vanier rented a small home and invited Raphael Simi and Phillip Seux, two men with developmental disabilities who had been living in an institution, to live with him. Just eight years later in 1972, the first small seed was planted on our own home turf, in Erie, Pa., when Gannon Chaplain, Father George Strohmeyer and the late Sister Barbara Karsznia, OSB, heard about the organization and went to explore it in Toronto. There are currently fewer than 20 L'Arche communities throughout the United States, however, there are over 135 communities throughout the world. Erie is the largest U.S. community, and differs somewhat from most L'Arche communities, as not all assistants live-in. Live-ins share their life with core members—thereby sharing the same house. So, while stateside L'Arche communities may be small in stature, they are great in devotion to each other. And now Erie's celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The organization currently supports 31 individuals living with a disability. Hunter tells me, "Although this isn't a high number, the organization serves as a home for life, which is just that. Once an individual is part of the group, they can remain there for the duration of their livelihood." Today, L'Arche Erie has eight homes and two apartment settings where its members live, work, and share in daily life. "I came from Ashtabula and currently live in one of the homes. The individuals living with the disability are known as our 'core' members. As an outsider, coming into Erie, I have found our city very devotional to this demographic, and our core members are amazing. They are some of the most hospitable people I ever met. When I first arrived, so many people greeted me—from the car when I pulled up to the moment I walked into the house, I was surrounded by such great energy. You can't help but love them all."
Part of L'Arche's core mission is to come together to share and celebrate as a community. As a result, L'Arche is celebrating the growth already achieved over the last 40 years, and wants to include the entire community. And that means everyone. What better way to celebrate but with an event – or better yet a series of events – throughout the year. So, with that, here is a list of events happening over the next several months, that each and every one of you are invited to join!
6/9/12 | Highmark "Walk for a Healthy Community" – Annual walk held at Presque Isle State park that benefits several local charities. For more information, go to: walkforahealthycommunity.org
6/22/12 | Party in the Plaza – From 6 to 10 p.m., enjoy live music and entertainment at the Colony Plaza's annual summer event. Partial proceeds benefit the organization
7/8/12 | SeaWolves Promotional Day - The organization receives up to $3 for every ticket that's sold as long as tickets are purchased through L'Arche. Vouchers can also be used for any game.
9/8/12 | Community Picnic – Held at Summit township's Picnicana Park on Old French Road, this event is a homecoming of past L'Arche members – people that know the organization or may have been involved in the past.
10/19/12 | 6th Annual Spirit of L'Arche Award dinner – Event is a dinner and reverse raffle and award program to be held at Ambassador Banquet and Conference Center
10/20/12 | That All May Worship –Event hosted for all faith community leaders and educators and the public that will feature keynote speaker Ginny Thornburgh.
In addition, Hunter emphasizes that the organization is always looking for support – and not just monetary donations. "One of our most important needs are just regular visitors. It's amazing to see the connection between our core members and volunteers that are around a little more regularly. It doesn't have to be all the time – even once or twice a month – they just love the hospitality."
For more information and details about any of the above events, please call 452.2065 or go to: larcheerie.org.
Rebecca Styn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org