Impact is a theme in our community this year and who knows about the impact of L’Arche better than people who have been part of our community? So we reached out to current and former community members to hear about their stories and relationships, and how L’Arche GWDC has impacted them. This is the seventh in a series of interviews with current and former community members of L’Arche GWDC titled: #LarcheImpact.
When were you at L’Arche GWDC and what were your role(s)?
May 2012-Jan 2013. Live in assistant at Ontario. I was Eileen’s accompanier, or more fittingly, she was my accompanier.
What brought you to L’Arche?
I discovered L’Arche through looking for Americorps opportunities relating to people with disabilities. I’d been working with a girl with a disability for years, and I wanted to do more. It peaked my attention, and I did a lot of research into the communities, and then made the plunge and joined the DC community. I wound up at DC because I was from the DC area, and didn’t want to be too far from my fiance.
What’s one of your favorite memories at L’Arche?
I have way too many to pick a favorite. The trip Mike, Eileen, Deb, myself, Jamie, and Alix took to see my horses, and Mike learning to drive a horse drawn cart. Putting fall themed items on our heads after dinner. Swimming with Walton. Dancing in the kitchen with Deb and Eileen. Sharing my favorite classical CD with Walton, and hearing his purrs. Listening to Johnny’s stories and rants. Mike making predictions that I was going to have 3 triplets, and then a set of twins (I’m sure he’d be disappointed to hear that I’m still childless, but I’m getting my 4th Godchild at the end of May). This one is a post L’Arche memory – but Eileen and Walton attended my wedding in 2014. Walton purring in the middle of the quietest moment of the ceremony was absolutely touching for me, and made me start crying again all over, just after I’d gotten the tears under control! And Eileen and Sarah Ruszkowski sang the L’Arche blessing song for us after that, with Jamie joining in from among the bridesmaids, and I was crying again.
What encouragement/advice do you have for people who are considering L’Arche?
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows – but it’s mostly sunshine and rainbows ;). Living L’Arche isn’t easy, but it makes such an impact – for others and on you. You will never be the same person leaving L’Arche as you were when you came to L’Arche. If I lived my life over, I wouldn’t change my time at L’Arche for anything (except for maybe my decision to leave).
How did you grow in your time at L’Arche?
Oh lord. This one opens a can of worms for me. But I’ll start by saying that L’Arche taught me it’s okay to be vulnerable with others, which is how I have the bravery to share this.
When I started L’Arche, I’d been hiding PTSD from everyone in my life. I’d been assaulted and abused when I was 15, and I had never, ever, spoken out about it. I’d been functioning, but barely. I wasn’t really living my life. Through a combination of learning about vulnerability, being severely but accidentally triggered repeatedly, talking to other survivors, and getting actual help, I began the long, long road to healing. I did a lot of religious reading, and Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved resonated with me in particular. My copy is dog eared, highlighted, has a broken spine, and I quote it to myself regularly. Reading it on a retreat day, combined with my relationships with Eileen, Deb, Mike, Johnny, and Walton, led me to finally accept that I was, indeed, broken – but that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being broken. In fact, it’s because I’m broken that God loves me.
I did eventually wind up leaving L’Arche a little earlier than planned to complete my healing process, but that was unrelated to living at L’Arche and more related to the fact that my abuser lived nearby. If my life had turned out differently, I would have returned to or stayed at L’Arche. I no longer qualify for a PTSD diagnosis, and have not for over a year. My healing is by no means complete, but I believe I would have never made the progress that I have if it hadn’t been for my time at L’Arche.
Another way L’Arche has impacted me is in my career choice. It broke my heart that Eileen wanted to learn to read, but that no one had ever followed through with teaching her. It was evident to me that she had some emerging literacy skills, but I didn’t really have the knowledge at the time to teach her. So, when I left L’Arche, I finished the psychology bachelor’s I’d been pursuing part time, and entered Old Dominion University’s Special Education Master’s program. Now I’m a second year teacher. It turns out that I’m a stronger math teacher than reading teacher, but I am still making a positive impact in students’ lives.
How does your time at L’Arche impact you today?
I keep a photo of Eileen on my desk at work to remind me of why I teach. My students sometimes ask me why I’ve got a photo of a woman who looks nothing like me on my desk, and I tell them she’s why I teach.
I’m also a very different person now. I’m more open emotionally. I’m a better communicator. I have come to value my brokenness. I have healed. I have far more faith – in myself, in others, in God.
Do you have a favorite picture of your time at L’Arche you could share with us?
We invite you to share your own responses to the “#LarcheImpact” questions. Your responses can be emailed to email@example.com
We are actively seeking new live-in and live-out assistants. Apply today!