L’Arche communities in the United States provide homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers; create inclusive communities of faith and friendship; and transform society through relationships that cross social boundaries.
L’Arche was founded in 1964 by Jean Vanier when he invited Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux to move out of an institution and live with him in a small home he had purchased in in Trosly-Breuil, France.
An acquaintance, Jacqueline d’Halluin, collaborated to come up with a name for this community where people with and without intellectual disabilities would live together and create a new kind of family. She suggested L’Arche, which means “the ark” in French (in English, it is pronounced as rhyming with marsh).
There is great symbolism in the French word: The story of a boat of salvation for God’s people appears in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu scripture as well as the mythology of other early cultures, and aptly symbolizes a place where people can find safety from life’s raging storms.
Today, there are (147) communities worldwide, including 18 in the United States. The communities consist of approximately 8,000 members with and without intellectual disabilities who share their lives together in homes and workplaces.
For a person with intellectual disabilities, L’Arche may be a place to live independently, or in a household with others, and/or a place of work through daytime programs and activities. At all times, it is a place of support and guidance that adapts as well as possible to the needs of each individual.
For employees and volunteers, L’Arche is a place of work that is oriented towards accompanying and supporting people with intellectual disabilities. Such support shows itself in the simple gestures of everyday life at home or in the workplace. For those living in the community household, L’Arche is also their home.
“Without this spiritual dimension and growth in holiness, L’Arche could become simply another group home. It would lose what makes it unique.”
All L’Arche communities are communities of faith that have a mission to work for unity. Some communities are one religion, others are inter-denominational or inter-faith. Members are encouraged to grow in their spiritual journeys, and people who are not affiliated with a particular religious tradition are also welcomed and respected in their freedom of conscience.
“Our community is a microcosm of the world around us. We are handi-capable and able-minded people. We are married and single people. We are Christians, Jews, Moslems and Buddhists. We are black and white and brown people. We are people from 10 different nationalities and three different continents. We are children and adults, young and old people. But, most of all, we are people who share in the joys and pains of all the people in the world.”(from “Living the Beatitudes: Daily Reflections for Lent”, Foreward by Henri J.M. Nouwen, pastor Daybreak Community, p.4)