The L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. community centers around life-giving and life-changing relationships, led by the adults with intellectual disabilities (called core members). Many of our community members, including core members and assistants, live together in L’Arche homes – we have two homes in DC and two in Arlington. While providing needed housing and support services, L’Arche also offers much more: we are a community that supports each other, whether we live with the experiences of intellectual disabilities or not, through daily joys and challenges.
L’Arche focuses on holistic, person-centered care within relationships, offering a model of inclusive living. We are a community that advocates with each other, and especially with core members, for our personal preferences and goals.
For core members, L’Arche offers lifelong homes with social and medical needs met by a team of assistants and volunteers. Relationships between core members and assistants are at the heart of L’Arche’s mission and one of the reasons our impact is recognized globally.
Daily activities are centered on core members who take the lead in making decisions and setting schedules. Core members lead household meetings, help plan meals, choose which faith community he or she wants to participate in, and set annual goals for themselves. Core members also make presentations to professionals in the disability field, to students, government organizations, and faith communities. As teachers, one of their most important roles is to orient new people to community living and serve as examples and mentors in areas of spiritual life, hospitality, and solidarity.
As core members age they want to have the choice of staying in their homes surrounded by the friends they love and trust. L’Arche makes this possible by investing in the resources and professionals necessary to provide for their changing needs. Older core members are vital leaders to the community – sharing their wisdom, experience, and knowledge of L’Arche as teachers and mentors.
The unique perspective of each L’Arche core member makes L’Arche homes a loving and exciting place to grow, learn, and live.
“This [L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.] is what de-institutionalization’s dreamers had in mind.” – The Washington Post, Katherine Boo, Pulitzer Prize winning author and journalist
A critical aspect of the L’Arche mission is developing inclusive communities throughout our city and the world. Core members lead us in welcoming others and modeling how to build and grow communities based on true inclusion. Core members speak in town halls and congressional offices, teach in university classrooms and on panels, and share the mission of inclusion in their churches, workplaces, and wider neighborhoods. Together, we advocate for state and federal laws that promote inclusion. Through persistent efforts, L’Arche is creating more inclusive communities.
“Even as recently as twelve years ago, as L’Arche established a new home, the community and neighbors protested our presence and tried to stop us from moving in. Through persistent kindness and invitations to join our daily activities, we have built alliances and advocates where there were once obstacles and enemies. Today our neighbors join us for meals, share in celebrations, and simply give a wave when they see us sitting on the front porch. This is how we are changing the world.” Eva-Elizabeth Chisholm, Human Services Leader, L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.
We fight stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities by simply inviting those with apprehensions to get to know core members – connecting with the community by hosting prayer nights in local churches and inviting community members to share a meal with us. Mealtime in L’Arche homes is not just a time to refuel, it is an opportunity to break bread with friends, family, and neighbors – forging bonds between residents and the greater community.
In 2018, L’Arche hosted over 1,000 visitors for dinners, modeling inclusion and educating guests about issues related to the disability community. L’Arche’s dinner guests have included state legislators and leaders from nonprofits, universities, and faith communities. Continuing this tradition of opening our doors to the greater community is paramount to L’Arche’s short and long-term goals of building inclusion.
For decades those with disabilities were shut away in institutions, today we are promoting the understanding that all people are valuable and integral to a thriving community.
Bill, neighbor to a L’Arche house, summarizes L’Arche’s work by saying: “The way L’Arche integrates [residents] into society breaks down barriers and misimpressions. By doing that they’re changing the world.”
Each year, L’Arche utilizes the talents of more than 65 assistants, interns, and volunteers to support core members (adults with intellectual disabilities). These future leaders often join L’Arche during college or before entering a graduate program. They seek an opportunity to give back to their community and develop transferable skills for careers such as a social worker, doctor, lawyer or nurse. They are aspiring community leaders, medical practitioners, and humanitarians.
Assistants and volunteers are an essential part of our family and their personal growth and development is an important aspect of the L’Arche mission.
Through New Leader Development each assistant and intern receives hands-on experience in direct support provision, a unique experience tailored to their personal and professional goals, and a new community of friends. Some leaders stay in L’Arche homes for a few days during a January semester or spring break while others stay for several months or years. Each participant has meaningful work supporting core members in living their fullest life with tasks ranging from preparing meals, exercising together, commuting to work together, talking about their days, and much more.
Our leaders develop new paradigms for inclusion, the value of a human life, and an appreciation for the gifts of every person, including their own. Developing these attributes in new leaders lays the foundation for a future of inclusive policies and practices.
These new leaders come from all over the country and the world. We regularly draw students from Georgetown University, Notre Dame University, and Duke Divinity School, as well as seminarians from Catholic University and Jesuit Novices. These leaders grow as they share life with and are taught by people who live with intellectual disabilities. The New Leader Development program area is meaningful to the leaders who join us, and to the community members who are renewed by the enthusiasm and fresh ideas the leaders bring to their work.
Many community members came to L’Arche seeking spiritual depth and they have found it in the wisdom of the core members and in everyday moments of connection. As former home life leader Sarah Ruszkowski said: “my housemates with disabilities have taught me how to love someone’s soul with God’s tenderness.”
L’Arche seeks to enhance and grow the program, continuing to improve the experience for students and all L’Arche members. Developing leaders not only supports our daily functioning, but it is a key part of our mission to build a more human society.
“I moved into a L’Arche home a week after my college graduation and spent two very meaningful and formative years with my L’Arche family. I continued on through grad school and landed in public service. As I think about my path since L’Arche, it is not hard to see how my growth was shaped while I lived in the community. I gained some much-needed relational tools that have served me very well in the professional world…”
– Megan Hrdlicka, Former Assistant, L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.