Before this past summer, I knew what L’Arche Saint John was in a literal sense: a community supporting individuals living with intellectual disabilities. It’s the organization that runs Creative Connections, and that keeps McKim House – the house where my Aunt Sarah Keyes now lives in – running. Now, four months after I started to work with L’Arche, I have come to understand it as so much more than this literal understanding.
When my Aunt Sarah moved into McKim House almost a year ago, I learned a great appreciation for what L’Arche meant for my family and for Sarah. We referred to Sarah’s move-in as the “launching” of Sarah – we were so excited for her to have her own space, while being amongst people who care deeply for her.
I spent the summer as staff with L’Arche Saint John at Creative Connections, and now continuing as a casual assistant at McKim House. Days passed with meeting the other core members, sharing day to day chores and meals with everyone, participating in community initiatives like the garden project, and making art in the uptown studio.
Throughout the summer, I began to see that the real magic of L’Arche is about relationships. Relationships made through lived and shared experiences, being there for one another through the ups and downs, and simply living together in a community of care.
When I was interviewed for the position working alongside Gray and Katie at Creative Connections, I mentioned how I felt that the mission of L’Arche and my values as a teacher aligned. As an elementary school educator with an interest in resource teaching, I believe in meeting students where they are, supporting their development from a place of what they can do rather than focusing on the individual cannot do. L’Arche has similar values: everyone in the house has tasks they can do. Everyone contributes to the hustle and bustle of daily life, including chores.
I very soon came to value the radical acceptance that the community lives each day.
Whether it was going for a drive with Debbie, or a walk with Stéphane, having a spa night with Krista, or listening to Pat play beautiful music, this summer has given me so much more than just a chance to reconnect with my aunt and put my “teacher skills” to use.
L’Arche has given me a community that supports one another, and a chance to be a part of my aunt’s new extended family.
As the oldest grandchild and therefore Sarah’s eldest niece, I was lucky to grow up spending my days with her at my grandparents’ home, on family vacations, and our many large and loud family gatherings. Sarah was a constant presence in my life, always tidying up after the many children who took over the house during the day, something I did not fully grasp until I moved away from Saint John as an adult after university. Sarah is the glue that bonds our family, bringing us together for events, sharing details of our days with one another, looking out for her and through that, caring for each other. In that same way the core members of McKim house are the glue of the community.
The opportunity to spend more time at McKim House in the past several months has meant getting to see these connections in action. And for this, I am ever grateful.
Casual Assistant, McKim House