A Shared Community

Original article published on [wiz duh m]

For many of us, life has grown increasingly difficult with longer work hours, fast-paced gadgets, a broken economy and the disappearing act of that elusive work-life balance. But in the midst of what we deem to be stressful, we often forget about those who live life for the mere experience of making it better.

Enter Canadian Philosopher, Jean Vanier. He’s the founder of L’Arche Harbor House, a nonprofit that dedicates itself to transforming the lives of those with developmental disabilities by simply providing an atmosphere based around the family structure – a structure that is co-dependent on one another and their respective gifts.

Back in 1964, Vanier invited two men with developmental disabilities to live with him in the French village of Trosley-Breuil. So inspired, he invited more and more men and women with disabilities into his home. He named it L’Arche, after Noah’s Ark and thus spawned what is now an international federation of 135 faith-based communities in more than 36 countries on 6 continents – all dedicated to enhancing the life of those that truly have something to share with the world.  And sharing is the backbone of what they do at L’Arche.

L’Arche Harbor House in Jacksonville, Florida is one of those communities built upon individual involvement and group contribution. It’s here that people, otherwise deemed outcasts by society, live in the comforting environs of like-minded friends and thoughtful assistants who care for them. But a pity-party this is not. Each volunteer assistant brings with them the realization that they stand to learn just as much from those they aim to teach. And learn they do.  Just take a listen to the video on their website for further proof of the gratifying nature associated with being around people blissfully innocent  toward the often damning weight of the world.

The sanctuary-esc confines of the Harbor House aren’t the only walls within which they participate. Here, each core member (those living at L’Arche with developmental disabilities) holds a job outside the community as well. Inside, they participate in artistic workshops, musical arrangements and rewarding group activities.  And it’s evident that their experience is building a fulfilling conviction; one that proves their contributions do not go unnoticed.

Community Director, Amy Finn-Schultz, talks about one of those activity programs, the L’Arche’s Rainbow Workshop. “It’s a day program for adults with developmental disabilities to do arts and crafts that allow them to express their creativity in a place that is fostering acceptance.” That may not sound profound to you or I in the grand scope of things, but again, that has more to do with our own societal distractions  than it does a lack of robust programming in such a place.  By allowing their core members to share their unique gifts with one another, they are opening these individuals to a life rid of blackberry-crashing crisis’s, United States Congress woes, or any other trivial beef that we may find overwhelming in life.

Places like this have something to teach us all. As one woman puts it, when speaking about what it means for her brother to live at L’Arche: “…Security, Safety, Love. It means another family to Tommy that will be his for his life.” For Tommy, Amy Finn-Shultz, Jean Vanier, and all of us, it’s really that simple. Love, Safety, Security, Creativity, Reward – these are all things we strive for, but at L’Arche, they can be found around every corner and that makes all the difference.

If you’d like to contribute to this beautiful community,  get involved at: http://www.larchejacksonville.org/participate/donate/.  And be sure to check out their upcoming fundraiser, the 22nd Annual Golf Classic at the legendary TPC Sawgrass (http://www.larchejacksonville.org/news-events/events/21st-annual-golf-classic/). There will be delicious box lunch, skill prizes, raffle,
 silent and live auction and a tournament reception featuring Heavy Hors d’oeuvres.

Written by Aaron T. Lyles

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