Anjela Turner knows that L’Arche is a special sort of place.
She has worked in occupational therapy, at a group home, and as a service coordinator for the District’s Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA). In these various roles, she has seen a lot that she doesn’t like.
Among persons with disabilities, she has seen boredom and a lack of fulfillment. Among assistants who work with those people, she has seen a lot of frustration from energetic go-getters who are left tangled up in red tape and weighed down by regulations.
Anjela has also experienced some of this frustration herself. “You had to go through so much to let your ideas shine,” she said.
But at L’Arche, everything is different. In her former role a service coordinator for the DDA, Turner regularly visited the Ontario home to make sure services were being properly provided and implemented. Unlike her other home stops, visiting L’Arche’s Ontario home was restful. “It used to be a nice break in the day,” Anjela said.
Now, she is more than a visitor. On November 8, 2011, Anjela joined the L’Arche community full-time as the director of professional services. It is her responsibility to make sure that L’Arche is complying with Medicaid and government contracts while still maintaining its identity and mission.
“L’Arche is an ideal model,” Anjela said. It’s a good example of what the human services field should be. For her, the people in the community prove that “to love what you do and love where you are is possible.”
Anjela received her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. After college, she worked in a group home where she got her first real taste for case management and serving those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 2006, she became a case manager with the DDA where she had a case load of 30, six of whom lived in the Ontario house.
Over time, Anjela realized that she wanted to get involved in the reform side of things. So many places failed to achieve truly person-centered care and lacked a real sense of community.
“If I was part of the development, then I could make it work,” she says. “I could make room for creativity.”
She is now pursuing her master’s in health care management at Marymount University. With the degree, she plans to serve as a bridge between corporations and community. Her new role at L’Arche, she believes, will be her first real opportunity to be that bridge.
Anjela wants to maintain L’Arche’s ideals and community feel in the face of the paperwork and roadblocks that often come with working with the government. For example, she says, if a core person* wants to hang out with a neighbor or a friend he or she met at church, there can be resistance.
“It takes a triathlon of training and classes just to have tea,” she said. But leading lives that are fulfilling doesn’t have to be so difficult. “There are ways you can deal with the restrictions and still live limitless.”
While Anjela saw something quite special in L’Arche, L’Arche also saw Anjela’s exceptional qualities. Barbara Ryan, L’Arche’s director of health care and training, has worked with a lot of service coordinators and Anjela was a joy to work with. “She seemed to get L’Arche,” Barbara said.
For as much as Anjela would like to bring to L’arche, she also plans to gain a lot. To her, the job feels a lot like a sabbatical. She’ll be able to see firsthand exactly how L’Arche maintains its mission, how core people can lead the lives they want, and how those who work with them can have a sense of joy in their daily roles.
“People come to L’Arche; that is rare,” Anjela said, noting the quality of assistants who volunteer to spend a year or more living in community and accompanying core people. “You don’t find people seeking you out to do what are some of the hardest jobs in the world.”
* In L’Arche, “core people” are the adults who have intellectual disabilities who choose to make L’Arche home for life.
Photo: Anjela Turner wants L’Arche core people to live limitless. Photo by Brian A. Taylor Photography
Beth Quill is a volunteer writer for L’Arche.