A reflection by Friends of L’Arche Fort Collins board member, Mandi Stoll
Anyone who has spoken to me in the last 5 years knows how much I love L’Arche. They’ve seen my countless photos, seen me laugh while describing a familiar L’Arche moment, heard me ramble on and on about the passions and gifts of my fellow community members, seen me grieve the loss of L’Arche family members, and watched me grow in my understanding of what it means to love someone else and be present with them.
In January of 2015 I joined the L’Arche Greater Washington, DC community as a social work practicum student working part-time with the fundraising and communications team and part time as a house volunteer with Euclid house (also known as “The Red Door”). As my practicum started to come to an end, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this community and gratefully accepted a full-time office role upon my graduation where I spent the next two plus years sharing life with the DC community.
Today, I’m living near Denver, Colorado. In all honesty, I don’t see and talk to my L’Arche GWDC family as often as I would like, but I love stopping by for dinner when I’m on the East Coast, asking Hazel about her day when she calls to remind me that it’s been too long since I was at Highland House for dinner, and celebrating alongside the community as I learn about community members hosting fun events or accomplishing big goals. I miss the daily call to slow down and be present with someone else that came from having both my personal life and my work life rooted in L’Arche.
In Colorado, I’ve been working as a Resource Coordinator managing the state Medicaid IDD Waivers for a caseload of adults with intellectual disabilities. The skills and lessons my L’Arche family members taught me are a part of what I do every day and I wouldn’t be as effective in this role if I hadn’t learned so much from my time in the L’Arche community. At the same time, as I hear over and over the desire to build meaningful relationships, my current role has increased my awareness of just how important it is for places like L’Arche to exist.
I never thought about the need to create opportunities for relationship at L’Arche. Our community members had strong relationships within our community but were also connected to church communities and had meaningful friendships with fellow congregants at their churches, house volunteers, former community members, and even the families of former/current community members. They knew the people at the local post office, the regulars at the McDonalds on the corner, and what seemed like every single person at the local Potters House Coffeeshop. It wasn’t unusual to be walking down the street and have someone who was a “stranger” to me call out and greet our community members by name only to learn that they are neighbors and have known each other for years. L’Arche had created a stable foundation in their lives that fostered meaningful relationships internally and “spilled” out into the surrounding area creating an entire neighborhood that they knew and could call home.
It wasn’t just the community’s core members, however, that benefited from this foundation of community both in the homes and in the neighborhood. After moving to Colorado, I faced what many adults face when moving to a new place, the struggle to find and develop new relationships. I was lucky to have people I already knew well either already living in the area or getting ready to move here too, but the transition was still shocking. I went from sharing my life on a daily basis with a large community to living in a place where I knew very few people and had to suddenly put in a lot more work to meet new people, a transition I hadn’t experienced when I moved to DC because of the way the L’Arche community creates space for relationships. As a part of my effort to find and develop community for myself here in Colorado I did what made sense to me, I reached out to Friends of L’Arche Fort Collins, to see what I needed to do to bring L’Arche to Colorado.
Since reaching out to Friends of L’Arche Fort Collins, I have joined the board and have a front row seat to the dedication and energy that it takes to make L’Arche a reality in a place where it doesn’t yet exist. L’Arche is a new idea to most people I encounter and trying to explain L’Arche to someone who hasn’t experienced it can be difficult to do without oversimplifying what L’Arche is and means. It can be particularly difficult for people who are unfamiliar with L’Arche to understand that L’Arche is more than a model for residential services and that they can be involved in our seedling of a community even without us having a home that provides services.
Over the last year the Friends of L’Arche Fort Collins board has talked a lot about how to “Live L’Arche” without a home providing residential services. We know that there is a great need in Colorado for residential services and we have encountered numerous parents who desperately want to help their adult children identify and obtain housing that meets their needs and will allow them to live the kind of life that they want to live. We are also aware of Jean Vanier’s reminder that L’Arche is not a solution, but a sign that love is possible in our world. Even as we work and strive to become a provider of residential services, we know that we will never be able to be the solution to Colorado’s significant need in this area.
Additionally, we want to be a place and community of welcome for people with and without intellectual disabilities to build mutually transforming relationships and celebrate one another’s gifts, no matter our role in their housing services.
In my work as a resource coordinator, I regularly talk to people who already have the housing and residential supports that they need in place but who crave the sense of belonging that community life brings. These people, like me, need more places and spaces like L’Arche where they have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships, and are supported to find belonging and “home” in their neighboring community.
We on the Friends of L’Arche Fort Collins Board have focused much of our energy on community gatherings this year because community and relationship are at the heart of L’Arche and gathering with one another allows us to “Live L’Arche” today. Continuing this effort as we work towards providing residential services is a pivotal piece of laying the foundation of a community who is able to foster meaningful relationships capable of “spilling out” into the surrounding neighborhood like the relationships I saw and experienced at L’Arche GWDC.
Over the last few years, Friends of L’Arche Fort Collins has been strengthening some foundational aspects of our organization and community that will allow us to enter what L’Arche USA calls “Project Stage” and we are in the final steps of preparing to apply for this!
In these final steps of preparing to apply for project stage, we will be meeting individually with those we know to identify what resources and supports are available to our community. Want to be included in this survey of our supporting community? Please, let us know!