Spatula baseball: L’Arche ‘leans into creativity’ during lockdown

IMG 9249 Eileen Schofield working on her art, including designs she creates as a paid employee of L'Arche GWDC. | L’Arche GWDC

While sports around the country have seen their seasons suspended due to COVID-19, spatula baseball season is in full swing at one of the L'Arche community houses in Washington, D.C.

Faced with quarantines and stay-at-home orders, the four houses of L'Arche Greater Washington, D.C. (GWDC) were forced to adjust to a whole host of changes to keep the members of the community safe. 

But, according to Luke Smith, executive director and community leader of L'Arche Greater Washington, the changes have meant that the L'Arche homes are doing what they do best: embracing creativity. 

"We're very creative as a community," Smith said, noting that there are many artists within the organization. "We're intentional communities, so we're intentional about how we share our gifts--and we're full of gifts--and so, and we've taken time to kind of lean into our creative energies." 

L'Arche GWDC is part of L'Arche International, "a worldwide federation of people, with and without intellectual disabilities, working together for a world where all belong." L'Arche communities consist of "core members," who have intellectual disabilities, and "assistants," who generally do not have intellectual disabilities, and who live in community with core members. There are 14 "core members" in the Washington area.

Part of L'Arche's "leaning in" to creativity involves devising new ways to pass the time. One home is having community members give "TED Talks" each night about topics they are interested in, and residents at another home invented "spatula baseball"--a game that has proven to be quite popular. 

Unlike traditional baseball, which uses a bat and a ball, "spatula baseball" is designed to be played indoors--Smith said it is typically played in the kitchen and living room--and uses a spatula in place of the bat and a paper ball instead of a baseball. Once batters hit the ball, they proceed to walk around the bases. 

Smith said that while community members are flexing their creative muscles at this time, others have tried to stick to a routine, even though they can no longer attend day programs or go to work due to the coronavirus. 

"People are still getting up to have breakfast as they would do normally, still getting dressed to go to work," he said. "Charles, who's a member of the community, is still wearing a tie every day, as he would do normally." 

The core members understand why they cannot go to their jobs or programs and, Smith said, they have learned on the news about the coronavirus and why it is important to practice social distancing and handwashing. Being part of an international federation means that L'Arche GWDC can see how the homes abroad were dealing with the virus.

"We know that other members in other communities are experiencing this too," he said. "So that reality of 'we are doing this together, not just as a national population of people here in the U.S., but also as people of L'Arche across the world,' has helped to set the tone."

Even though Washington and Virginia are both under some variation of stay-at-home directives, the world of L'Arche's community continues, albeit with modifications, said Smith. This Tuesday's prayer service, which is normally held in-person, will instead be done via Zoom. 

He added that there has been an "unintended benefit" of a new reliance on technology--being able to reconnect with past community members. 

"Technology is a wonderful way of ensuring that we remain an intentional community, where we continue those mutual relationships or we are able to flourish--even in the midst of this," said Smith.

Smith said that other measures, such as new screening procedures and temperature checks for any guests to the homes, as well as changes to who is permitted to go grocery shopping and when, are to ensure the health of the core members and assistants, many of whom are considered to be medically vulnerable. 

"People with intellectual disabilities are often the most impacted by this," said Smith. "And we have people in our community who are no longer at work. They are people with intellectual disabilities who are no longer receiving a paycheck and they are no longer engaged in, what is being meaningful and is meaningful for them." 

Smith also raised concerns about the potential quality of medical care that the core members would receive if they were to fall ill as extra motivation to introduce additional safety steps. He noted several states have been accused of issuing disaster preparedness plans that, should the situation arise, could prioritize giving care to people without intellectual disabilities if there were a shortage of ventilators. 

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"I am particularly mindful of that, in light of some personal experiences in  my own community here in DC, where we've had issues in the past in terms of communicating the dignity of someone with their medical provider or the medical system," said Smith. 

Smith praised the "great work" of the assistants of L'Arche GWDC, as they have made "sacrifices in limiting what they are doing, to make sure that our homes are safe and healthy and protected."

An obstacle facing L'Arche GWDC is the cancelation of their fundraising breakfast, as well as the challenges they face in obtaining common household supplies, which typically sell out very quickly. Smith said the communities have a wish list where people could support them financially if they want to do so. 

As the DC-area concludes its third week of coronavirus-related restrictions, Smith told CNA that he has been careful to work to maintain a strong sense of community and cooperation within the homes. 

"One of the things that we practice every day at the L'Arche community is the reality of forgiveness and celebration are daily parts of our reality," he said. 

"I've been sharing with the community that we need to be gentle with ourselves and gentle with others and that it's okay to be frustrated with the coronavirus, but we don't need to be frustrated with each other." He said his community has "really leaned in" to this mentality.

"We've been able to lean into each other, and ask each other for support, and ask each other for space and time," he added. 

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Smith told CNA that he hopes the L'Arche community is able to be a sign of hope and community for not only each other, but also for other members of the greater DC area--particularly those who have been impacted in one way or another by the coronavirus. 

"We are praying with you," said Smith. "We are thinking of ways we can support you. L'Arche wants to give, too; we as a community want to be supportive."

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