Blog

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

By John Guido

On March 27 and 28, 2019, five of us from L’Arche attended the Vanier Institute of the Family “Families in Canada” conference. At first, I wasn’t sure why we were there. The conference theme was “THINK BIG: How can we use “Big Data” to inform and inspire big ideas to optimize family well-being in Canada?” I was fully on board with L’Arche developing our capacity for the better use of data (both numbers and stories) as we seek to increase our impact in Canadian society. We’ll write more about that another time.

My question was about how L’Arche might play a role in optimizing “family well-being.” While families have always been part of the life of our communities and our biggest supporters, we rarely identify them as a ‘primary beneficiary’ except when we provide supports to their family member. Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life. However, the question remains: Should we focus more on the wellbeing of families, listening to and reflecting with them?

Is L’Arche a new kind of family?

My questioning went another direction as the conference focused on the outcomes of the Families in Canada Listening Tour. A photo was projected, and I was delighted to see some of my friends from L’Arche Ottawa in their community centre. On the Vanier Institute’s website, they summarize what they shared about the photo:

“In June 2014, the Vanier Institute of the Family launched the national Families in Canada Listening Tour at L’Arche Ottawa, a cousin organization founded by Jean Vanier – son of Vanier Institute founders General The Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier and Madame Pauline Vanier. Attended by Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, it was a special milestone for L’Arche and the Vanier Institute, both celebrating 50 years of service. Members of L’Arche discussed their experiences in their families of origin as well as those they have created at L’Arche, a home for people with intellectual disabilities. L’Arche provides an opportunity for these adults to live independently and participate in daily life activities together in a familial setting. The event was informative, insightful and inspirational, foreshadowing the success of the Listening Tour.

The Vanier Institute’s understanding is that those of us in L’Arche belong both to families of origin and to our L’Arche families. “Our definition of family is deliberately broad to ensure that it captures all families and family experiences. It is a functional definition of family that focuses on relationships and roles – what families do, not what they look like.”


Minister Duclos

In his opening remarks to the conference, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development captured the core of what families do, “The Vanier Institute’s 2015–2016 listening tour asked people to complete the phrase “Family is…” and the answers were overwhelmingly:

  • Family is Love;
  • Family is Care; and
  • Family is Support.

The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring people can love without labels, get care when needed and support one another at home, at work and in their communities.”

Some people might say that love, mutual care and support are what L’Arche does. Many people welcomed by L’Arche especially in the early years suffered the rejection of institutionalization or breakage with their family of origin for other reasons. They often say, “L’Arche is my family.” For these men and women, this may be their reality – L’Arche is the first or only family that they have known.


A special meal in L’Arche Saint John

As we move away from that painful era, the number of people in L’Arche without strong ties to their families of origin is decreasing significantly. Yet for many of us, there remains a strong identification with L’Arche as a “second family.” We have ties that bind us deeply to other members, an experience of belonging to each other. We often act like an extended family during daily meals, at the bedside in hospital, and in life celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, and funerals.

The problems of identifying L’Arche as a family

Despite these deep experiences of L’Arche as a family, there are problems with this identity. These are some of the issues that I’ve seen in three decades of lived experience:

  • When we idealize family life, we will be disappointed on a regular basis because there is no place where people love perfectly.
  • The family system gives primary power to the roles of father and mother which can be problematic if we replicate them unaware of the potential for abuse of power, or if we paper over experiences of poor boundaries, disrespect, harassment, and abuse.
  • This concept may depend on persons with disabilities to be the children, especially if they have higher or increasing needs for support that make them more dependent.
  • A family system often puts individuals into narrow roles and doesn’t always give them the room and support to take risks to explore, experiment, and break free.
  • We can be too comfortable in our own home, too closed in ourselves, and afraid to be involved in the messy life of the wider community where people have different ways of seeing and doing things that might challenge us.
  • L’Arche communities have dual identities of the community (that we may experience like a family) and the agency, the not for profit service provider funded and regulated by governments and accountable to a variety of stakeholders.
  • This dual identity impacts us in many ways: turnover of assistants with a constant cycle of welcoming-forming-sending-grieving; lack of time and energy for assistants to ‘just be with’ their housemates and to focus on their own growth; inconsistent commitment to retired assistants, etc.

Like a family, L’Arche will never be perfect, but we must never use that as an excuse to tolerate behaviour that is controlling, conforming, closed in, or causes harm to vulnerable members. L’Arche is called to be a community where we develop strong bonds with safety, respect, and openness to growth, change, and the world around us.

From questions to a Call to Action

It’s clear that L’Arche isn’t a family – although it may substitute for family for people in need. And there are dangers in conceiving of L’Arche as a family without reflecting on what that implies and creating safe boundaries. Yet there is something about belonging in a community where I’m known and loved, where I’m deeply committed to the growth of others and they to me, which is like a family, either the family we know or the family we’ve been searching for.

Reconnecting to the Vanier Institute of the Family at Families in Canada 2019 is important for L’Arche in Canada. L’Arche has a profound lived experience walking with persons with intellectual disabilities and often with their families for 50 years. We need to explore where we’re being called to learn with and contribute more to the wellbeing of these families.

There is also a call to explore more deeply – with the Vanier Institute of the family and other partners in building vibrant communities – the ways in which communities are like and not like families; how we need both family and community to thrive; and how these primary spaces of belonging can support and challenge each other. L’Arche has a lot to learn yet much to offer as we build a society where each person, each family, and each community is healthy, valued, and contributing their gifts and abilities for the good of all.

 


Creative Connections

Creative Connections is a space for making art with persons with intellectual disabilities. It promotes belonging, diversity, and inclusion while extending the impact of L’Arche in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Continuing the Journey in Unity and Hope

With people around the world, the family of L’Arche mourned the death and celebrated the life of our founder, Jean Vanier. We are called to stay on his path.

L’Arche Joliette’s Zoom Media

This team of creators, designers and technicians offers full sound, image and video services to make their collaborators shine!

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life.

Sage and Time

Making community art unleashes creativity and builds bridges between seniors and the wider Sudbury community.

Inclusion Begins With Me

A conference on inclusion organized by L’Arche Agapè was an occasion to deepen understanding and recognize that “change will be achieved by breaking down barriers and creating awareness among people”.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

A play inspired by the stories of persons institutionalized for having intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends.

Journey to the Greatest Gift

In a Gala celebration, L’Arche Daybreak celebrated 50 years of creating the Beloved Community, discovering the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily life – albeit with magic and space travel thrown in.

From Presence to Citizenship to Community

In order to promote meaningful inclusion, we need to build communities that welcome the gifts and contributions of all their members.

Give People their Place

As we celebrate the 50th of L’Arche in Canada, we’re amplifying the voices of persons with lived experience, sharing insights on creating belonging, diversity and inclusion in Canada.

Building a model of Inclusive Housing in Elmira, Ontario

Over the past decade, L’Arche has been connecting with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation to learn how they are building “supportive affordable housing” for persons with intellectual disabilities, and to share our vision and experience.

Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

Hearts and Hands, the creative arts space of L’Arche Antigonish, is promoting creative expression, belonging, and inclusion in Nova Scotia through community arts.

Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

What belonging, diversity, and inclusion mean to me

L’Arche Canada is launching an online reflection to Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion by listening to the voices of persons with lived-experience and those who share life with them.

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.

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.

Social Inclusion Cannot Exist without True Community and Friendship

L’Arche Canada is participating in a series of round tables on the theme of “Living Together” – sharing life with and including persons who are vulnerable and marginalized in the heart of our communities.