A conversation with Erica Gannett, a former assistant and service team leader at L’Arche GWDC! (Interview has been edited for length and clarity.) You can listen to the interview here.
Mary Ellen, Communications and Outreach Manager: Can you introduce yourself?
Erica: My name is Erica Gannett. I was Erica Mitchell when I was at L’Arche and I was an assistant and STL at both Ontario and Euclid House from 2015 to 2017.
Mary Ellen: So how did you learn about L’Arche?
Erica: I learned about L’Arche when I was a freshman at Notre Dame and participated in the summer service learning program and one of the sites was L’Arche GWDC. I was placed at another site but we read as part of our curriculum Adam by Henri Nouwen. I just was really struck by that book and his telling of his time in the community and just felt like I needed to learn more about this place. So I ended up planning to come on a seminar over spring break not too long after to visit L’Arche GWDC.
Mary Ellen: That’s really cool. Alright. So how about a favorite L’Arche memory?
Erica: Yeah my favorite L’Arche memory…you know I don’t know that I can pull out just one and as I was thinking about
this I kept coming back to dinner time and in particular we used to do song as prayer on Thursday nights and just getting to sit at the table and light candles and sing together. It was just such a gift and one of my favorite parts of every single week. So I yeah I think that that is a memory that stands out over and over again.
Mary Ellen: So how would you say L’Arche has impacted you?
Erica: L’Arche has impacted me tremendously. I think both personally and professionally. When I came to L’Arche, I
definitely saw it as something that I would do for a couple years and then I would move on to something different at that time. My plan had been to go to medical school and when I became the service team lead in DC I just realized that
maybe this was what I was made to do longer term. And so though I did end up leaving L’Arche and DC I have stayed in the disability services fields and have worked in Colorado at community-based agencies providing residential and
comprehensive services to adults under the waivers. Now I work at the state of Colorado on the compliance team supporting community-based providers in maintaining regulatory compliance but that was not the plan when I got to L’Arche and so that has definitely been a major impact that it’s had on.
I think also just spiritually and relationally so many of my people to this day are people that I came to know at L’Arche and those relationships are just incredibly impactful and lasting and continue to shape who I am to this day. Even just the way that I pray and the way that I engage with my Christian faith has been shaped in an ongoing way by and large by my encounters with the core members. There is not a week goes by without thinking about how I was so consistently called in L’Arche to just slow down and see God in my surroundings and in the present moment and the way that I was reminded of that so often. I think about that a lot and I think it is a call to continue centering myself on those things to this day.
Mary Ellen: It’s really interesting to hear how it’s still still impacting you even today, which leads into the next question of why do you stay connected to L’Arche?
Erica: I stay connected to L’Arche because I love L’Arche as a community. I love the people that I got to be in a relationship with and get to be in relationship through L’Arche. I consider you know Johnny and Mike and Eileen and Deb some of my good friends to this day. Johnny and I FaceTime pretty regularly and I love when Mike will accept my phone call if I don’t catch him at a busy time. I really stay connected for those relationships. Even just the opportunity to stay connected to some of the assistants and folks that that are serving at L’Arche these days. It’s fun to even from a distance get to know them in different ways even if it’s just through like passing as they hand the phone to Johnny or something and just know that kind of this thread of people remains that will continue to love the core members so well and care for them even when I’m not there. I think those are a lot of the reasons I’ve stayed connected. It’s just such a gift to be in relationship with the core members, it’s just a joy to to get to FaceTime or be on the phone with them.
My husband and I were dating when I was at L’Arche and he knows the community and the core members and you know some of the assistants and team that have been around awhile now very well also. To us, when we thought about how and where we wanted to give of our financial resources, L’Arche has always been at the top of the list. We just love being able to continue to be a part of the story. To continue to enable some of just the really rich things that come from that, like giving beyond just what is funded by the waiver for the core members. Things like vacations and celebrations and all of those things that some of our giving can go to.
Mary Ellen: What are your hopes for L’Arche?
Erica: My hopes for L’Arche are that it would continue to be a place of welcoming and belonging for so many both core members and individuals with disabilities and also the assistants and others. That volunteers, community members that come to be a part of L’Arche. It offers something so unique in our world and my hope is just that it can continue to do
that that, it can continue to be a place where people can bring their authentic selves and be met with sometimes
matched joy or matched you know sadness or all of those things. I think L’Arche is just a place where you come as you are on that day and there are people there that are willing to to meet you in that place and that is just so rare and unique. So that’s my hope is for what it continues to be.
I am just so grateful for everyone who has continued to support L’Arche over the last really challenging year and a half. I
yeah I can’t imagine the unique challenges that have been posed by life in the houses over the last year and a half with the pandemic. I am so grateful to know that Johnny and Deb and Mike and Eileen and all the other core members just
continue to be loved and cared for really well despite those challenges. So, that would be my only thing is a thank you
to all those people, you included.
See some of Erica’s favorite photos from L’Arche life below!