L'Arche, A Day at the Gym
By James Wiley
7 Nov 2012
In the 1970's, I was assigned my first photo essay for The Winnipeg Tribune, the first newspaper I worked for. It turned into a great fun day as children with developmental disabilities from L'Arche visited a gymnasium for the first time. Outside of a couple of minor gliches, everyone had a marvellous time as did I in capturing some very special moments.
In L'Arche, people who have developmental disabilities and those who come to assist share life and daytime activities together in family-like settings that are integrated into local neighbourhoods. L'Arche in Canada has nearly 200 homes and workshops or day programs. These are grouped into what L'Arche calls ''communities.'' There are 27 communities of L'Arche located across Canada from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island and 2 projects that hope soon to become communities. L'Arche communities are open and welcoming of neighbours and friends and often engage in various collaborations at the local level.
L'Arche Canada is the ''umbrella''organization for L'Arche in Canada. It is committed to helping create an open, inclusive and compassionate Canadian society where every person is valued and can make a contribution. It undertakes Canada-wide educational and community-building initiatives that extend the values and vision of L'Arche into the wider society. It publishes educational and popular materials that highlight the contributions of people who have developmental disabilities to the wider society and that contribute to the public conversation about values and the social ethos in which we live. It also ensures the standards of Canadian L'Arche communities, supports the establishment of new communities, supports national L'Arche initiatives such as leadership training and program development in areas of common concern (today, Aging is one such area) and it oversees the Solidarity program with L'Arche communities in the South. The L'Arche Canada Foundation is the fund-raising body for L'Arche Canada.
Each L'Arche community consists of a small number of households where people share in decision-making and each person contributes as they are able. L'Arche believes that meaningful work or day-time activities are very important to a person's dignity. Many communities of L'Arche have day projects of various types. Some people in L'Arche may have regular jobs in the wider community, but most of the people with developmental disabilities who come to live in L'Arche need considerable support and find competitive employment is not an option. L'Arche seeks to provide environments where people can reach their full potential, lead lives rich in relationships of mutuality, and have a valid place in society where they can contribute.
L'Arche was founded in 1964 by Canadian humanitarian and social visionary, Jean Vanier. Distressed by the institutionalization and the isolation and loneliness of people with developmental disabilities, Jean Vanier invited two men from an institution to live with him in a small house. He called the house ''L'Arche,'' a French word for ''the ark'' in the biblical story of Noah and the flood. L'Arche grew quickly and spread around the world, attracting many young people who wanted to help and opening new homes and workshops. L'Arche began in Canada in 1969. Today, there are over 130 L'Arche communities in 34 countries on six continents. All of these communities are part of the International Federation of L'Arche Communities.