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!

An Innovative Model of Life-Sharing in the Comox Valley

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada. The Vanier Suites of L’Arche Comox Valley are a new model of shared living renewing the vision of L’Arche.

Presenting… Ross!

Now we’re delighted to introduce you to Ross Moncrieff, the second of the two individuals with intellectual disabilities selected for a session with a professional photographer.

Measuring Impact in the Movement for Inclusion

L’Arche delegates reflect on their experience and learning from the December 3rd Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion titled “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

“Painting is the song of the heart”

This artwork embodies the innate human desire to create a personal, physical mark which holds our fragile identity in the strength of an intentional creative gesture.

Presenting… Tiana!

Our friend Gil invited us to think about the importance of being “in the camera,” and inspired us to invite others to take their turn. We are delighted to introduce you to Tiana!

Community arts create a world where everyone is valued and belongs

The community arts movement and organizations like Art Hives build stronger communities and a more human society. L’Arche celebrates the unique gifts of artists and the community creative spaces where they thrive.

Celebrate the Gift

In October 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and of L’Arche In Canada. We will take time in the next 12 months to share our stories in many creative ways. L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, celebrating the gifts of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

L’Arche Tova Café promotes Belonging and Inclusion in Winnipeg

Social purpose businesses or enterprises focused on food and hospitality are vibrant and innovative ways to promote belonging and inclusion. For over 6 years, L’Arche Tova Café has led the way not only for the city of Winnipeg, but also for L’Arche in Canada.

Storytelling “with”

L’Arche storytelling puts belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the centre to help us “imagine the world differently.”

Where is happiness, where is it…?

Happiness is a trendy topic. There are as many definitions of happiness as there are individuals, yet never has a civilization developed such precise models and ideas of what happiness should be.