Portland charity celebrates 25 years of serving disabled community
L'Arche volunteer washes the feet of a community resident. Credit: larche-portland.org.
L'Arche volunteer washes the feet of a community resident. Credit: larche-portland.org.
By Megan Saeman and Hillary Senour
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.- The Portland, Oregon branch of an international charity that uses interpersonal relationships to serve people with developmental disabilities will celebrate its 25th year of service in the area.

“L'Arche is about creating a world where it is not just an act of charity to befriend a person with developmental disabilities but where it is an act of connecting with one’s own humanity,” Tamara Yates told CNA.

L'Arche Portland, which is just one of the 137 communities in 40 countries around the world, will commemorate over two decades in the community with a benefit concert and a new fund development campaign.

The Development and Communications Coordinator of L'Arche Portland said that by supporting the charity, she hopes that people will be opened up “to something more profound.”

The Sept. 22 concert, which will feature local musician Julianne Jonson and pianist Michael Allen Harrison, will be held at Madeleine Parish in Portland and will help support local the staff who live in community with those who have developmental challenges.

The “Sign of Hope” campaign, which will launch this fall, is seeking to raise $250 thousand a year for the next three years to work towards financial sustainability and to be able to pay staff “just and livable salaries.”

Their founder, a French Canadian named Jean Vanier, began the community over 45 years ago after visiting his mentor in Paris, who introduced to him the suffering of people with developmental disabilities in local institutions.

Vanier then decided to quit his job, relocate to France and invite two of the men from one of those institutions to live with him.

“Back then it was a really radical thing for him to do,” Yates said.

She explained that Vanier recognized that the suffering of the men he visited was not necessarily due to their disabilities, but rather as a result of the “isolation they were experiencing from being housed in these asylums.”

Yates said that, unfortunately, it is often the case that people with development challenges often lack strong interpersonal relationships even if they have caretakers.

As a result, “every L'Arche community is about creating home,” Yates said, rather than just providing care.

“Core members,” or those with developmental disabilities, live in community with their caretakers and are considered an integral part of L'Arche's work.

“The core members are at the heart,” Yates said, “and we build our community around them and their needs.”

To build on the family aspect of the home, community members participate in weekly outings and volunteer throughout the Portland area through a program dubbed “L'Arche Lends a Hand.”

A favorite project among residents and staff is the bi-monthly birthday parties they throw for the local Maybelle MacDonald homeless shelter.

L’Arche Portland is discerning possible options for growth in the near future. 

One possibility could be to open one or more additional homes.

Another possibility may emerge from a model currently being explored by the State of Oregon known as “lifesharing.” This model, which exists on the East Coast, consists of single families inviting a person with a developmental disability to live with them in their home as family.

If this model emerges in Oregon, L’Arche would be uniquely suited to providing formation and guidance for the families and the adults with disabilities whom they welcome.

“We are really excited about getting our financial ducks in a row so that we can step into this new growth with enthusiasm and confidence as it emerges,” Yates said.

Tags: Persons with disabilities

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