Last New Year’s Eve Laurie Pippenger created a collage and titled it “My New Life.” The photos included one of a large kitchen with an island and one of Pope Francis. Laurie told her mother that she wanted to get to know more families with young children and work on losing weight.
As was their tradition, Laurie and her mother, Ruthann Pippenger, were praying and consulting Angel Cards for signs about what 2014 might hold for them.
“All Laurie’s messages were that it was time for a big change, and that it would be wonderful,” Ruthann said.
Meanwhile, members of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C.’s home on South Sixth Street in Arlington were praying about who might join their home. Luke Smith, L’Arche community leader in Virginia, said that after a core person* moved out in January the household went through a period of grief. Then, the housemates sat down together to talk about what they wanted for their home.
“We named ice cream and new chairs, and everyone said they wanted a new ‘family member,’” Luke said.
Fast forward to April, when Ruthann attended a retreat. She looked in the mirror and was shocked by her own appearance. “I looked like a tired caretaker,” she said. “I realized 38 years was enough.”
Upon returning from the retreat Ruthann contacted Laurie’s case manager to explore housing options. They were in luck. The opening at L’Arche had been posted just days before, and the case manager thought it could be a great fit. After visiting, Ruthann and Laurie agreed.
The Pippengers worked with Luke and Anjela Turner, L’Arche’s director of professional services, to prepare for the transition.
Laurie began her new life in L’Arche on August 4, 2014—50 years to the day that Jean Vanier, Raphaël Simi, and Philippe Seux moved in to small home in Trosly, France, and named it L’Arche. Her new kitchen has a large island in the middle. Community members that live nearby have small children whom she is getting to know. And her new housemates are helping her lose weight.
“Comfort. Relief,” is how Ruthann describes how the experience has been for her. Over the years, she has hoped Laurie could find a place that would respect her personhood, talents, and inter-faith background. She wanted a place where Laurie’s hearing losses could be easily dealt with and speech skills maintained. And, she was looking for a community of fun, love, celebration and healing that continues the Pippenger family motto of peace, joy, truth, harmony, and beauty.
She found it in L’Arche.
Laurie was excited to come to L’Arche, but said, “It was hard to let go of my mom.” The day she moved Laurie prayed that her mother would be supported as she starts a new life, too.
The first two months were difficult as Ruthann and Laurie were asked to limit their time together to allow for new relationships and routines to flourish. Labor Day was particularly difficult for Ruthann as it was the first holiday she and Laurie didn’t spend together. But she recognizes that now they can begin new traditions in L’Arche that Laurie will be able to continue when Ruthann is gone.
Laurie will also bring her own contributions to L’Arche. She introduced the community to a friend who offered a garden plot and has already demonstrated strong leadership skills. She loves decorating for holidays and birthdays. She’s also an amazing cook.
“With my mom I cooked every day. Here we have to take turns. I’d rather cook every day,” Laurie confided. Her specialties include homemade pizza, pasta with meat sauce, and Greek salad.
As for her hopes for a future in L’Arche, Laurie says, “I want to go around the world and be myself … follow my destiny.” She lived in Europe for fourteen years and hopes her destiny will take her abroad again—Egypt, Hong Kong, and Paris to start.
After Laurie moved in Ruthann offered to bring the New Year’s Eve collage over to the new house. But Laurie was already living her new life and said, “I don’t need it any more.”
Laurie works as a weaver at Woodmont Weavers in the Ballston Mall where she uses her creativity and love of color to design beautiful patterns. She’s also a huge fan of anime, Japanese animated productions usually featuring hand-drawn or computer animation.
Photo: Housemates Edna Tang and Laurie Pippenger show off the pumpkin they picked together. Photo by Bethany Keener
Get to know Laurie—and L’Arche—at the annual fall open house on Sunday, November 2. From 2-4 p.m. guests are welcome to tour the L’Arche homes in Arlington and meet the core people and assistants who live together in community. The open house is free and children are welcome. Join us at 413 S Highland Street and 3008 S 6th Street. Contact Liz Yoder with questions at email@example.com or 202.232.4539.
*Core person refers to the adults who have intellectual disabilities who live in L’Arche because they form the core or heart of the community. In L’Arche, assistants who provide support for daily living live with the core people, creating a family-like home.