Growing as we Learn: The L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative

“A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” – Harvard Business Review

The L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative is helping L’Arche in Canada to grow – not only in the number of persons supported and the variety of ways in which we share life with them, but also in the ways we discern where we are called to grow and how we go about it.

As in all our priority areas, Growth is helping L’Arche in Canada to become intentional about being a “learning organization” that follows these practices (also from HBR):

  1. Systematic problem solving,
  2. Experimentation with new approaches,
  3. Learning from their own experience and past history, learning from the experiences and best practices of others,
  4. Transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization.

Here are some testimonies of how the Growth Initiative is transforming our communities and the national organization into a learning organization.

L’Arche Sudbury Growth Narrative

By Jen McCauley

Over the years, L’Arche Sudbury has been called to grow many times, usually responding to the needs of our members. In the past year, Lori Vaanholt from the L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative has led our community in a wonderful process of reflecting, of re-walking the path that has brought us to today. As we developed our Growth Narrative, we remembered the spirit of our own founding when most people were young with few physical needs, but with other challenges. Today, we have many members who are aging and that impacts how we live the mission.

Group in SudburyWe are also inspired by hearing the ways L’Arche is being lived around the Federation; the bricks and mortar of the traditional L’Arche “Foyer” or home, is not the only way to share life and live the mission. With change once again in front of us, we desire to maintain all that has made us who we are, while recognizing that we need to evolve. The community has come to a place where we can envision something different for our community.

Greg Bechard, a housing consultant, spent time in our community to ensure that all members have had their voices heard. He challenged us to think about what our non-negotiables are and how we can include those in our plans going forward. He gave us options to consider and the ability to think outside of ourselves. Greg’s credibility as a leader in the Developmental Services sector, held a lot of weight. People could think about new ways of doing things. There was “buy-in” and his recommendations were embraced.

From this reflection, we developed a Strategic Plan that our community will be able to reference over the next four years to see where we are achieving our goals and where we need to put more energy. For L’Arche Sudbury, this has been the opportunity for “hearing the cry” like Jean Vanier did in founding L’Arche; we are listening and responding to the needs and dreams of people today.

L’Arche Beloeil Innovative Employment Supports

By Marie Frechette

Our development project originated with a critical need among core members in our community rather than with a development need. The reorientation of the CRDI’s mission (Rehabilitation Center for Intellectual Disabilities) lead to loss of employment and internships for many people in our community. The loss of financial compensation for work done by core members was also an important point to consider as part of our development project. We wanted people to receive appropriate financial recognition for their work.

I remember an assistant meeting in September 2015 where we unanimously decided to emphasize, through workshops, our people’s gifts and motivation to work. Our maintenance committee started back then. The Pot-au-feu had been created in a similar way the previous year.

Workshop in BeloeilAt first, we didn’t have a specific project in mind – ideas of workshops were developed out of individual gifts and interests and the community’s needs. The garden quickly became a pivotal point in the development project. The project has a strong unifying power in the L’Arche Beloeil community as well as in the broader community. It is a very important key element.

The project’s immediate impact on the community is with core members. We see the effect on people’s well-being when they are offered significant work along with the appropriate support. Financial compensation started in January 2017 and we can already see that it makes a big difference for many people.

The assistants involved in our workshops are very motivated by the workshop projects and proud to contribute to this new development for L’Arche Beloeil. Our community celebrated its 35th anniversary in November 2016. Today we feel that we are experiencing a new founding that is life-giving, unifying and offers us another way to live the mission of L’Arche.

Our project has so far brought us a number of financial, media and human partnerships. We have a growing list of people interested in participating in the garden project (volunteers), groups from the agricultural sector are involved – they are new partners for us. One of the positive impacts is that through these partnerships, the gifts of people with an intellectual disability are at the forefront.

As with Pot-en-Ciel, we wish to welcome workers living outside L’Arche through service agreements with the social affairs network. The arrival of new artists in the creative arts workshop allowed new people to join L’Arche Beloeil in a different way and gave new impetus to Pot-en-Ciel. We hope to do the same with our new workshops thus giving them a broader reach.

Another desired impact relates to worker compensation, as we hope to find a legal solution that would allow other employers to offer compensation to persons with an intellectual disability working in their company. We believe that every working person should receive compensation. Volunteering should be freely agreed to, but the issue is that currently it is imposed on people.

Innovation through Listening in Comox Valley

By Christine Monier

The development process for the Front Desk project happened in a new way for L’Arche Comox Valley (LCV). We had set up several committees related to the I Belong Centre, including an Outreach Centre Visioning committee and the Vanier Suites Residential committee. From the Outreach Centre Visioning committee, emerged the desire to draw more people in, to welcome new individuals. For this, they felt the need for a welcoming presence, a person who would physically embody the welcome the I Belong Centre wanted to extend by greeting, smiling, and being a gracious host to program participants, volunteers and anyone who happened to walk in the door.

The Vanier Suites Residential committee, which included parents of prospective tenants of the Vanier Suites, identified the difficulty they had in accessing the resources they needed – in this case, housing – for the individuals in their care. Their voices at the table were new and effectively broadened the discussion of how LCV could look beyond its own community and address new challenges. This need resonated with the team in our office, where we were hearing from parents and caregivers struggling to navigate the Ministry system and finding themselves increasingly frustrated. Information flow throughout the system was poor.

By looking for the common threads in the work the various committees were doing, we were able to generate a new role that could allow L’Arche Comox Valley to be more outward-looking, more oriented to the needs of our broader community. Combining the posture of hospitality with ideas of advocacy, the Front Desk position was born.

L’Arche London: Innovation through Sharing Learning

By Marietta Drost

It has been a wonderful experience to be part of the growth process with L’Arche Canada. We see the impact of sharing our best practices and learning from the insights and examples of growth within other communities. We are much stronger when we work together sharing our unique community gifts and ideas as a large national body instead of working independently as a sole community.

An example of this would be the environmental scan that an occupational therapist intern did for our community last summer. It had huge impact on our planning as we develop our day programming in our new Gathering Space. The L’Arche Canada growth team shared this insight with other communities in Canada to help them develop their own environmental scans. Sharing our successes as a national body helps us shift our thinking and grow in new ways. It also allows us to be efficient in our practices instead of each community re-creating the wheel. It is exciting to work together and learn from one another.

Having the support and funds to grow our arts program is huge for our community! Providing an art educator to design and coordinate a much richer and meaningful art program in our new Gathering Place will have a huge impact on the quality of programming that we can offer our core members and new day program participants from the wider community. The art educator will be able to develop the therapeutic and creative aspects of the program, deepen our existing connections and widen our circle with new and exciting partnerships in the London community. The art created in our program will also allow us to start looking at new social enterprise opportunities for our community.


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