People are drawn to the deep spirituality found in L’Arche-the sense of belonging and peace that holds the community together and leaves visitors with a lingering sense of awe that such a place of unfettered love exists.
But there is a flip side that doesn’t get talked about much: the legal and operational bulwarks that provide structure, regulation, and a good deal of funding that support the heart of the organization. As a licensed provider of residential and support services in the District of Columbia and Arlington, Virginia, L’Arche is eligible for Medicaid contracts that cover nearly three quarters of the organization’s annual operating budget. As such, L’Arche is required to adhere to government guidelines, including meticulous training of assistants, locking up medications, and allowing inspectors to scrutinize data sheets.
L’Arche has seen rapid expansion, doubling in size from two homes to four and from nine core people to seventeen in just five years. Steve Keener, who joined L’Arche as chief operating officer/general counsel in July 2011, is tasked with overseeing L’Arche’s “contract enterprise”-the piece of the pie that includes mortgages, insurance, Medicaid billing, and compliance with regulations in two separate jurisdictions. In addition, Steve will continue L’Arche’s advocacy efforts within D.C., Virginia, and federal legal systems to improve funding and access to integration for people who have intellectual disabilities.
“People and agencies look to L’arche as a model for how to include people who have intellectual disabilities in a community-based setting,” Steve said. He notes that the Department of Justice and the Virginia government are currently in negotiations to determine how Virginia should move from an institution-based model to a community-based model that fulfills people’s human rights. “I anticipate that L’Arche will have some sort of role in helping Virginia decide what to do next.”
Steve initially heard of L’Arche through Henri Nouwen’s writings, which inspired him to spend a year sharing a home with two men who have intellectual disabilities at Mennonite Disabilities Committee (now Goldenrod) in Goshen, Indiana, with his wife, Bethany.
“My first personal experience with L’Arche was two years ago when I came to visit on a community night,” Steve recalls. “It was Eric Arntson’s first anniversary in L’Arche, and I felt an immediate sense of belonging and welcome from the community.”
Steve came to L’Arche from King & Spalding, LLP, where he had been practicing law on the international-trade team since graduating from Notre Dame Law School in 2008. His pro bono practice included representation of unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings and human-rights research for the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. Steve has already established a pro bono relationship between L’Arche and King & Spalding, which he anticipates developing further in his new role.
Steve and his wife, Bethany, have two sons, Tristan (4) and Seth (1). They live at “Ivy house” just around the corner from the two L’Arche homes in Arlington. If you’d like to be an advocate for L’Arche, contact Steve at 202.232.8477 or SteveKeener@larche-gwdc.org.