WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Residents of L'Arche Edmonton enjoy their Christmas luncheon at Fulton School.
Recognizing the gifts of every individual, trusting in God and forging mutual relationships are at the heart of life in L'Arche Edmonton.
L'Arche Edmonton is a diverse and multicultural community of people with and without mental disabilities committed to building relationships with each other and the broader community.
The organization was founded by Canadian Jean Vanier in 1964, in Trosly-Breuil, a small village outside of Paris. Vanier invited two men with disabilities to live with him, and their little house was named L'Arche, or The Ark.
"L'Arche has grown and changed over time. What the need was back when Jean started it was people being put in institutions and not being treated as human beings," said Sister Pat Desnoyers, executive director and community leader for L'Arche Edmonton.
"Today we don't have people in institutions, but there are all kinds of other needs. There is still a lot of discrimination, and people not seeing the giftedness."
Currently, there are 136 L'Arche communities worldwide. Vanier continues to advocate and affirm the dignity of all people, regardless of ability.
L'Arche Edmonton was formed in 1972, the second L'Arche community formed in Canada. This year marks L'Arche Edmonton's 40th anniversary. Known also as Shalom Community, it has a rich history and continues responding to the changing needs of its members.
"A real focus for us is belonging and building relationship. Anywhere we can do that and create time together is an opportunity to build relationship. There is also a focus on revealing the gifts of each person," said Desnoyers.
Sr. Pat Desnoyers
There are four L'Arche houses in Edmonton and two in Sherwood Park, which are home to men and women of various ages and abilities. Between five to 10 people live in each house. They come from various cultural backgrounds, with 14 different countries represented, and range in age from 18 to 84.
All of the homes have a strong welcoming spirit and a family-like atmosphere. They live the simple things with extraordinary love, whether it be preparing meals, eating together, doing household chores, going for walks or praying together. The residents lead typical lives, going to the shopping mall or church, and perhaps watching TV in the evening.
Desnoyers said people who have a developmental disability are important to society. They call us clearly to become more human, more authentic and open. They carry a message of peace for us all.
"The particular focus right now with L'Arche Canada is servant leadership. Washing the feet is really important for us, the whole idea that we all serve each other," said Desnoyers. "We're looking at leadership models that could be inviting for people, so when they come to look at L'Arche, it's a way of learning leadership."
While traditional leadership involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the top of the pyramid, by comparison, the servant-leader approach puts the needs of others first.
The mission of L'Arche is to make known the gifts of people with developmental disabilities revealed through mutually transforming relationships. They seek to work together to build a more human society.
The L'Arche day program provides opportunities to share life together through such activities as Friday hot lunch, music therapy, arts and crafts, daily prayer, and involvement in Seniors Helping Seniors and Hope Mission.
On Dec. 14, L'Arche held a special Christmas lunch at Fulton School. The lunch included a hot turkey meal, as well as entertainment provided by La Dolce Vita string quartet.
Other social functions are held throughout the year, including their annual Christmas pageant and Heritage Days. The pageant, based on the story of Jesus' birth as told in the Gospel of Luke, has become a Christmas tradition for many Edmonton families.
For the past 27 years, the pageant has been L'Arche Edmonton's way of celebrating Christmas and helping others see the Nativity through the eyes of people with disabilities.
L'Arche is often in need of items for their homes. Currently, there is need for large moveable cabinets, stackable meeting space chairs, financial donations, and help with minor renovations.