Miracle on South 6th Street

Eva Hernandez and Caitlin (Booth) Smith prepare for a strike. Photo by Brian A. Tyalor Photography

Just months before the opening of the new L’Arche home in Arlington, it looked like it would take a miracle in Congress for Eva Hernandez to be able to move in.

Eva’s current living situation was unsustainable. Since their father’s death in 2006, Eva had lived with her sister, Maria Gillen, and Maria’s husband Bill. With full-time jobs and two young daughters, it wasn’t easy for Maria and Bill to meet all of Eva’s medical, emotional, and social needs.

Eva frequently stayed at a respite center, but the sisters felt a strain on their relationship. Something needed to change.

Despite her trepidation about group homes, Maria began to search. At first, she was discouraged. It seemed that so many of the group homes were just places for “adult-sitting.”

“I was looking for a place that shared my belief that every human—no matter their limitations—has tremendous value and potential,” Maria said. “When I was introduced to L’Arche, I felt this immediately.”

Eva was a perfect candidate for the new L’Arche home, but, along with thousands of other Virginians, she was waiting for Medicaid waiver funding that was frozen due to state budget cuts. (All L’Arche core people receive Medicaid funding to help cover living expenses.)

Thanks to advocacy efforts by L’Arche and other organizations like the Arc of Northern Virginia, the state government had agreed to provide 250 new waivers slots—if Congress extended the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage funding.

The outlook was grim. The House failed to pass the extension. Weeks ticked by while Eva and the L’Arche welcome committee waited for the Senate vote.

Then the miracle came, not in the form of a vote, but in the form of a vacated waiver slot. Within days a letter from L’Arche arrived, inviting Eva to join the community.

“I am very happy,” Eva told Maria the night they received news of Eva’s funding.

Eva moved into her brand new bedroom in August. She is one of four “core” members of the home. The opening of the home brings to completion a decade-old dream to have two L’Arche houses in Arlington.

Home-life coordinator Caitlin Booth will be at the helm. She sees her role as supporting the new core people in making the new home their own, especially considering the fact that many will choose to live in L’Arche for the rest of their lives.

“Something as small as putting a painting in the living room is a unique opportunity for people who have intellectual disabilities,” Caitlin said.

Caitlin notes that having two L’Arche homes within close proximity is helpful for inter-community relationships. Two houses equal more support and friendship for each member of the community.

“L’Arche is grateful to Arlington County, the State of Virginia, and other friends who have helped increase the richness of this neighborhood by welcoming people who at one time would not have been able to live here,” John Cook, L’Arche executive director, said.

He and Caitlin hope the neighbors will embrace the new community members and discover what people around the world find when they encounter L’Arche: a place where all are welcomed and loved for who they are.

-Bethany Keener