Photo: Advocates Charles Clark and Jill Egle aren’t afraid to speak up. Photo by Mary Ruppert
Inclusion, story-telling and the opportunity to be a part of good work are important to me. L’Arche GWDC recently had a chance to hear a speaker who touched on all three in a powerful way. Jill Egle, self-advocate and former co-director of The Arc of Northern Virginia, spoke to our community about her journey to speak up for herself as a person with an intellectual disability and to use her voice and role at The Arc to advocate for others. I walked away with three main points from her that I’ve been mulling over since:
1. Be kind to everybody. Do this because they deserve it, because it will make a difference and because you rarely know the whole story of what they bring into an interaction on any given day. Jill spoke from the heart about the pain, especially in her childhood, of people’s unkindness in judging and teasing her because of her intellectual disability. She has responded to that not with bitterness but with a commitment to treat others lovingly – I saw it that day as she went out of her way to warmly greet as many of us as she could and to treat each question and comment she got from us with real care.
Henri Nouwen said something similar: “To bless means to say good things. We have to bless one another constantly. We forget so quickly that we are God’s beloved and allow the many curses of our world to darken our hearts, we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs.”
2. Life is for engaging as fully as we can – putting all our gifts and desires into the world – and for helping others to do the same. Jill explained that she started at The Arc in an administrative support role, but the director was quickly able to see the gifts Jill would bring to a leadership role. She offered her the role and engaged the right people to offer the training, practice and encouragement she needed to succeed. She was speaking in particular of how that can be important for someone with an intellectual disability, though I’d say it rings true for all of us. Her “fullness” in describing her work was palpable. I really get that, as it matches my own desire – in work and in life, to have the chance to bring my best to it.
When I lived in a L’Arche community in Belfast, I talked often with one of our core members about his desire to find meaningful work; the structures were not in place to make that happen, and the pain and incompleteness of that for him was really clear.
We’ve recently hired one of our core people to work in our communications department here at L’Arche GWDC. She is a wonderful and important addition to the team, bringing her natural relational skills, her flair for delivering a message and her enthusiasm for L’Arche. It is pretty great to watch the team offer that support to help her grow in her role and to see her take pride in her work and place with us.
3. Use the voice you have been given to speak your own story and to share that of others. Jill spoke to us about the need for each of us to do this, while she was giving an example of how to do it – by speaking with care and clarity and speaking from the heart. She talked about how she was able to advocate for removal of the “R” word from VA state legislation and be part of the national movement to eradicate a word that brings shame and diminishes others. She can speak to this from her own experience and she does. She can speak for those who don’t have the capacity or opportunity or courage to speak for themselves – and she does. I have been mulling this over in particular, and take it as a welcome challenge – to try to have the same courage and clarity to help others speak and to speak with them in a way that serves as a reminder – to any and all who need it – of our belovedness.
Was it great for our core people to hear from someone who has overcome some of the prejudices and obstacles they face and come forward as leader and an advocate for herself and others? Absolutely. It was just as important for the rest of us present to be inspired by a gifted speaker and storyteller with an important message for the mulling.
-Sharon Ryan joined the L’Arche GWDC community in June 2012. In her role as director of finance and operations Sharon keeps L’Arche’s books in order; she also offers her gifts of humor, kindness, and creatively placed decor.