Setting our course for the next 50 years

By John Rietschlin, Chair of the Board of L’Arche Canada

As L’Arche in Canada gathers for our national assembly in Halifax, marking the end of one mandate and the beginning of another, it is impossible not to see how we are developing and evolving both as an organization and as a community of people responding to a call. Both of these developments occur within and respond to a larger social context where people with disabilities are more and more taking their rightful place in society, but where, at the same time, isolation, loneliness, poverty and vulnerability of many – both those with and without disabilities – remain ever visible.

For the past five years, since the assembly in Vancouver, the Board of L’Arche Canada has supported our national leadership team to ensure that our organization is working as effectively as possible to serve our communities and our mission. Part of L’Arche Canada’s responsibility is to do the things that communities can’t easily do alone – such as attracting and hiring foreign assistants, coordinating Canada’s financial support to L’Arche communities in other countries and the International Federation, developing and delivering our national Servant Leadership Program, or representing L’Arche in national issues such as Medical Aid in Dying legislation. We are also strengthening our risk management capacity and supporting communities to do the same in order to minimize risks to the safety and well-being of our people and our communities. When issues do arise – sometimes in a specific community – sometimes related to a region – we support the local leadership to address them.

L’Arche Halifax

Photo: L’Arche Halifax delegates to the General Assembly celebrating

Both the Mandate just ending and the new Mandate call L’Arche Canada to go out at a national level and to support communities to do the same locally. Through our Mission and Growth initiative L’Arche Canada has been supporting our communities, and new projects to dream and to explore how they are called to respond to the needs of persons with intellectual disabilities and the needs of the larger community where they are situated. It is incredibly exciting to see the many ways in which communities are exploring and implementing new initiatives – new forms in which people with and without disabilities are sharing life together – new ways in which people with intellectual disabilities are being supported to share their gifts with the world; all this, while maintaining our commitment to our existing homes. We are increasingly confident that, collectively, these initiatives, will allow us to serve twice as many or even more people with intellectual disabilities. Perhaps even more importantly, they will permit them to be community builders and servant leaders to many, many more people who will be touched by them. Over the past few years, L’Arche Canada, with the support of the L’Arche Canada Foundation, has channelled several hundred thousand dollars towards communities to help specific growth projects. As most of you know, we are working with the Foundation to create a major fund-raising campaign that will take this to a new level over the course of the next mandate.

Complementing the Mission and Growth Initiative, the Board has also enthusiastically supported L’Arche Canada’s increasing Outreach capacity. In the next Mandate, we look forward to seeing L’Arche – both nationally and locally – take its proper place in the public conversations where the experience of living our mission gives us an important perspective.

It is exciting to dream and to make plans, but the Board of L’Arche Canada knows that we must also deliver results. Consequently, we have strengthened our accountability to our communities by instituting a regular membership survey and face-to-face annual meetings where both community leaders and board representatives are present. To ensure that our major program investments, such as Servant Leadership, are having the desired impact and to improve them, we are instituting formal program evaluation practices. We will continue to build on these accountability practices over the next mandate. We will also engage actively in the structural review identified as a priority in the coming mandate, looking for opportunities for all of us to work better together.

L’Arche Daybreak

Photo: L’Arche Daybreak, the first L’Arche community founded in Canada

At the 2018 Halifax Assembly, we stand on the eve of 2019, marking fifty years of L’Arche in Canada. If I may dream a bit, I would like to peer even further into the future – 50 years from now, our 100th anniversary. When the history of L’Arche is written at the point, I believe that it will highlight the years 2013-2021 as a key period of transition. The first fifty years were a period when L’Arche was part of a larger social movement bringing people with intellectual disabilities out of the shadows of institutional living and discovering their gifts. What about the next fifty years? We still don’t see many things clearly, but more and more we are seeing an era where new community forms – perhaps a gathering place, a social enterprise, an arts space, or an integrated seniors centre – are inclusive places where people with and without disabilities transform one another’s lives. We see an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche Calgary community garden

Photo: L’Arche Calgary members work with other volunteers to build raised garden beds in their neighbourhood community garden.

For those of you who are young enough today to imagine read that history fifty years from now, it will be satisfying to have been a part of this transition. For all of us, though, living it now is pretty exciting!

Institutional life – a bit of context

Raphael Amato offers some background on the role of institutions in the 20th century

Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people

Each message pays tribute first to a person’s story, highlighting and sharing the richness and diversity of these heartfelt testimonies.

L’Arche International Family Day

The first Saturday of October is L’Arche International Family Day. Discover the gift of L’Arche around the world and celebrate our solidarity with one another.

Setting our course for the next 50 years

Looking forward to an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

Celebrating Jean Vanier at 90

Jean Vanier is 90. L’Arche in Canada extends sincere gratitude and best wishes to our founder, guide, and companion in the journey, our friend Jean.

Investing in Justice for Institutional Survivors

Patricia Seth, an institutional survivor, put it this way, “It was like living in a prison. The only thing is, we didn't know when we would even get out.” Inspired by the founding story of L’Arche, L’Arche in Ontario is engaging in Investing in Justice, a series of projects promoting healing and belonging, truth and reconciliation for survivors.

L’Arche Beloeil Art Workshop “Le Pot-en-Ciel”

Le Pot-en-Ciel is an art workshop that would not be if it weren’t for one member of L’Arche Beloeil who dreamed of a place where he and fellow artists could draw and paint together in a spirit of sharing and mutual teaching. Photography by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx.

Summer in the Forest: One L’Arche Perspective

Summer in the Forest is an extraordinary film – a feature-length documentary by British filmmaker Randal Wright beautifully shot and scored. The subjects of the film are Jean Vanier and several members of his community of L’Arche Trosly in France and of the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Vanier speaks in English with dialogue in French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

Holocaust Education Week: Remembering Aktion T4, the Nazi Euthanasia Program

A few years ago, I went with Mel Kirzner, a man with an intellectual disability who welcomed me to L’Arche in 1985, to visit the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the Reena Community Residence in Vaughan.