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Belonging from St. Louis to London

From St. Louis to Dublin, to D.C., and on to London – Chelsea Sullivan’s L’Arche story has spanned the globe, shaped her future goals, and given her a place of belonging.

Chelsea has been volunteering with L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. for almost a year, but she first encountered L’Arche in St. Louis where she was impressed by the “radical inclusiveness” of people with and without disabilities living together. She volunteered to cook meals and enjoyed the family atmosphere at dinnertime.

After college, Chelsea spent 9 months at L’Arche in Dublin, Ireland. Here, she lived as an assistant with core members who needed more physical support than she had provided in the past. This created a new and physically demanding element in providing assistance which “exposed me to the power of vulnerability,” reflected Chelsea.

Chelsea moved to DC in 2018 to work for the Equal Rights Center. Immediately, she sought out how to get plugged into the local L’Arche community. “After I came back from Ireland I knew that I needed to have L’Arche in my life in some capacity.” Volunteering was the best way she found to do that. “I came to DC not knowing anyone and L’Arche, no matter the community, no matter where I’ve been, is a great way to get to know people.”

Chelsea with core member Bruce.

“To me L’Arche provides a sense of belonging that I knew I wouldn’t be able to find in work or out in the general community. It always kinda served as a place where I didn’t have to put on a front, or worry about being a new person, and it’s very welcoming and instantly draws people in.”

Like in St. Louis, Chelsea cooks dinner at one of our Virginia homes once a week. But it’s not the cooking that draws her, but the sharing of the meal. “Let’s sit down and have a meal and just talk. I don’t do that otherwise.” It’s time to relax, reflect, and “just exhale.”

Chelsea’s next move is London, where she will be joining the L’Arche London community as an assistant. She found herself missing the daily one-on-one interaction that she finds living in L’Arche.

Chelsea has been doing life with L’Arche for three years now, whether as an assistant or a volunteer. How does she share L’Arche with others? She explained that sharing what L’Arche means can be difficult in a culture where interdependence and relying on others is seen as a sign of weakness, and where people with intellectual disabilities still face stigma. Chelsea tells people that she lived and work with, not for, people with intellectual disabilities. She paints a picture of community life, celebrating the highs and working through the lows together. “It’s the community that is the root of L’Arche,” she says. “You need others in order to thrive.”

Being in L’Arche has shaped Chelsea both personally and professionally. She’s a “perfectionist through and through” she admits, but at L’Arche she learned to realize that not everything has to be perfect, that living in community means living with both gifts and imperfections. Chelsea’s experiences at L’Arche have taught her to work alongside people, instead of doing everything for them.

Chelsea celebrated Christmas with L’Arche GWDC, including core member Laurie (right).

L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. is a place of home for many people – whether volunteers like Chelsea, core members, assistants, or guests – but along with welcoming people we also send them out into the world.  When people are transformed by relationships at L’Arche, they often desire to share that transformation with others. Core members, assistants, and L’Arche friends go out into the community to teach about inclusivity at schools and churches.

Additionally, each year at L’Arche GWDC the talents of over 65 assistants, interns, and young adult volunteers are shared as they support our core members and learn from them. Like Chelsea, these young leaders learn new paradigms to appreciate the gifts of every person, laying the foundation for a future of inclusive policies and practices, as they take what they learn at L’Arche to their own communities and careers.

Chelsea plans to attend law school with the intention of advocating with people with intellectual disabilities. She also has the goal to one day found a L’Arche community.

When asked about favorite moments at L’Arche, Chelsea told a recent story of sharing dinner with core family member Charles Clark at one of our homes in Virginia. After cooking and eating and cleaning up, Charles and Chelsea sat and talked about her upcoming move to London and who she might meet there. Charles said he would visit and claimed that “if anyone ever hurts you, I’m your brother, you can always come to me.” She was moved by this example of their genuine relationship, and how Charles named it.

For Chelsea, L’Arche provides “a sense of family that carries to every place I’ve ever lived.”

Charles and Chelsea
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