“Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.”

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

About Hunter

Postal Address: P.O.Box 236, Hamilton NSW 2300. Ph: +61 2 4942 2010

About Us:

There are three activities that are absolutely vital in the creation of a community. The first is eating together around the same table. The second is praying together. And the third is celebrating together. By celebrating I mean to laugh, to fool around, to have fun, to give thanks together for life. When we are laughing together with belly laughs we are all the same. Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World, p. 37

Hunter Friends of L’Arche is a community of about 30 people with and without intellectual disabilities who meet regularly in the Newcastle area to do just that. We enjoy eating, praying and celebrating together at community gatherings, social activities, workshops and other events.

We have been working hard to establish a community living the L’Arche vision, but we will still need to gain additional financial support to enable our long term aim of having one or more homes to become a reality.

Then some people with intellectual disabilities within the Newcastle/Hunter area could live with assistants as a L’Arche family.

At present we are living as a supportive community where all can belong and be valued. Following a generous offer from the Hunter Uniting Church Presbytery we have entered into a partnership agreement and established an office in their building in Garden Suburb so that we can have a more visible presence in the community. We have appointed a part time Project Coordinator, Ros Wetzler, to assist us in progressing our future vision. This position is supported financially with some of our funds that have been raised and donated in recent years. We hope that we will be able to gain some additional financial support to sustain and expand this role as our plans develop.

For the past year we have been companioning our core members (members with intellectual disability) and gathering their remembered stories. We are planning in 2013 to celebrate each of their lives and fulfil a dream they might have.

Through our current activities of community meals and social gatherings we are making contact with and learning from L’Arche groups in Sydney, and friends from the Heart of Glebe Community in Glebe. We look forward to meeting other families who have become aware of our community. All are welcome to join in any of our activities and we would be happy to provide any further details or discuss any offers of assistance.

Our Plans:
The Hunter Friends of L’Arche Board has prepared a business plan and other associated documentation to assist in promoting the establishment of our first home in the Newcastle-Hunter area. Our long term vision is to establish one or more L’Arche homes in the area.

Our Vision:
The purpose and priorities of Hunter Friends of L’Arche are summarised below;

Our Purpose:
• make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities
• to form meaningful relationships with our core members and to remember, celebrate and dream together
• grow our community
• establish our first home

Our priorities for the next year::

We will;

• implement ways of engaging our core members in meaningful relationships with other people in the local community and growing our community
• embrace a true sense of belonging and participation by all of our members and introduce new and innovative ways of developing independence for each member
• continue conversations with L’Arche Sydney and government authorities to progress possible ways of positioning ourselves for the establishment of our first future home and to examine possible options for participation in the National Disability Scheme .

Story of Month

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Maree’s Story

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When I was a little girl I went to Kindergarten at Cheltenham Public School. My mother had five children and my grandfather lived in a granny flat at the back of our Epping house and my father was very sick and was in hospital, he had a heart operation. I then went to two schools in Epping before going to Boarding School at Mater Dei so that I could learn more.

We had to sell the Epping house and we moved to the Central Coast and Mum and John bought a house in a retirement village but they both got very sick and died. I had a lovely family.

I tried living in a couple of Group homes in Orange but I found that was not for me, so I told my Mother I would be happy to live anywhere as long as it was not a group home.

A lady brought us to Merewether and to see some flats there and I have been living there ever since. I like living in Merewether.

I have two birds Wally and Harry and they are very happy. I look after them well. They are well fed and I talk to them and they talk and listen to me. I do my own housework and washing. I like looking after myself.

There is an office at the back of our flats and the staff there help me.

I am a happy person, full of jokes. I am good with my hands and like doing craft. I like to keep busy.

On Mondays I go shopping with staff, Tuesdays I go to Art Mania Wallsend from 10-12.30am and Wednesdays to Ladies Chill and Chat run by the Baptist Church where we do craft.

I like to go to L’Arche to meet people, they care about me. We go there on one Saturday each month.

I like to meet people and try things out. I like talking to my birds and when they are outside in their cage people stop to talk to them too. One thing I really like to eat is donuts but I am trying really hard not to even look at them. It is better if I eat healthy food.

Events for Month

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The Boyce Family attended a retreat led by Jean Vanier at Morisset in 1990 and a small group was formed to explore the possibility of a L’Arche group in Newcastle.
This group established an alternative housing scheme for the disabled called Hunters Carers for the Intellectually Disabled.

Wendy Ponsen and Barbara Lumley met through a disability group in Newcastle Wendy had read an article in paper about L’Arche and in late 1998 through Barbara’s concerns about the spiritual needs of those with disability and Wendy’s concern for her son Jonathan, the L’Arche flame was rekindled.

A group formed, led by Barbara, with monthly meetings held in Barbara and Frank’s home, to pray together and learn about L’Arche. Through these meetings and events such as picnics and ten pin bowling, community began to be built.

On 15th April 2004 with the help and encouragement of John Coleman, the Regional Co-ordinator a letter was sent to the L’Arche Australia Regional Council and National Board seeking “Friends of L’Arche” status. This was endorsed on 19 June 2004. In April, thirteen members of our group attended the Australian, New Zealand and the Pacific Region retreat at Merroo led by Jean Vanier and Eileen Glass.

When Barbara and Frank moved to Orange in 2005 Geoff Rigby was appointed as Chairperson.

2004 was a busy year; the Regional Coordinator, John Coleman visited and on 15 April 20024 a letter was sent to the L’Arche Australia Regional Council and National Board seeking “Friends of L’Arche” status. This was endorsed on 19 June 2004. In April, thirteen (13) members of our group attended the Australian, New Zealand and the Pacific Region retreat at Merroo led by Jean Vanier and Eileen Glass.

Through bi-monthly community nights with a shared meal and spiritual reflection and social events such as picnics and ten pin bowling, we began to build our community. In 2005 Hunter Friends of L’Arche held its first Retreat at the Stroud Monastery and two (2) of our members with disability attended the L’Arche Australia Companion’s Retreat at Galong. Incorporation was achieved in early 2006 and we have received Charitable Gift Recipient endorsement as a Benevolent Society from the Australian Taxation Office.

In 2010 a partnership agreement with the Hunter Uniting Church Presbytery, an office was established in their building in Garden Suburb and a part-time Project Coordinator was appointed in 2012. In that year four (4) people with disability and their companions attended a Companions Retreat in Brisbane; an adventure for all without parents. A long term dream was to publish a book of stories of L’Arche in Australia and with a generous Innovative Community Grant from UnitingCare Ageing in October 2013 the work began.

The book, “My Home in L’Arche”, was launched as part of the Celebration of 50th Jubilee of L’Arche in November 2014. In February 2016 a Memorandum of Understanding was agreed to formalise a relationship between Hunter Friends of L’Arche and L’Arche Sydney whereby L’Arche Sydney would provide the administrative and operational expertise required for an agreed fee for service. In February 2016 the National L’Arche Australia Board agreed that we would be known as L’Arche Hunter. L’Arche Hunter continues to build relationships with Government, Churches, Housing Groups and other relevant agencies in readiness to commence services through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Spiritual Life

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The Community of about forty (40) people meets monthly (usually on the first Saturday of the month) for Community Gatherings at Georgetown Anglican Church Hall. All are welcome to these Gatherings where our members with disability call all to gather around symbols which hold us together as L’Arche Hunter and part of L’Arche Australia and L’Arche International, to pray, to deepen and celebrate our mutual solidarity. A delicious bring and share lunch is enjoyed by all. The Spiritual Life Group meets to plan these gatherings and Hand and Heart relationships are being built around our members with disability, their companions and family so that life together will be shared beyond the monthly meetings. A Prayer and Reflection morning is held in the Prayer Room at our office to learn together, to pray and deepen our understanding of the Spirituality of L’Arche. This is usually held on the third Thursday of the month. All are welcome and for further information about any of these events please refer to Contact tab at top of page.

Our Stories

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The iPod Man and the Churchman Fred has helped me to be part of the L’Arche Community. When he appears with halting, uneven gait, and cheerful sounds of greeting welling up from deep within him, people respond to him. You can see him securing his space, tuning in to his surroundings and sometimes, into his iPod as well. It’s generally not long before Fred is “into it”, picking up on others’ comments or ideas, especially those which are humorous, with his own words and hearty, throaty laugh which causes much amusement and enlivens all around him. He often calls out to me “Churchman” (I am an ordained Minister) and when I respond with the name I’ve given him, “iPod man”, it always makes him laugh. When I sometimes feel I can’t be much use to L’Arche, I remember Fred, seeing him happy and excited and full engaged. I think that being linked to Fred as his companion has helped me (and Fred) to realise how rich we are in the things that really matter. In every one of us there dwells an “inconsolable longing” for that place which is our true home, a place where we are welcomed and loved. L’Arche, I think, is a signpost to that home and a foretaste of it. Fred and I often go out together on outings around Newcastle. The first thing is to find a real coffee. One of the best outings we have done was to Taronga Park Zoo, the first visit for Fred. We spent several hours going around seeing all the animals. His favourites were the monkeys, the tigers and the seals. “When are we going again?” he asks me. The really big trip we did together was to Brisbane for a L’Arche Retreat. Flying was a totally new experience for Fred and he was, naturally, a little apprehensive. But as his companion on the journey, I was able to reassure him, on entering the aircraft cabin; he needed no urging to ask the pilot if he could see the cockpit. The Captain obliged so Fred was right at home. During the four days in Brisbane Fred made many friends who appreciated his contribution. Caring for Fred’s personal needs at the Retreat was a privilege and he made the most of it, especially having me put on his shoes and socks for him. The “Remembering, Celebrating and Dreaming” Program was rewarding for us both. I put together a book of photos and script over many hours on the net and presented it to him at his celebration with Hunter Friends of L’Arche. He had a good laugh when he saw the photos of sausages and beetroot on the back cover of the book – his favourite food. Fred called this night, “My night with Jesus.”

Fred Clouton and Mel Nelson
Fred and Mel

Contact Us

L’Arche Hunter
P.O.Box 236
Hamilton NSW 2300
Phone: +61 2 4942 2010
Phone: +61 2 4943 0450

Board Members: Chair: Shirley Crowe, Phone: +61 499 238 848 Vice-Chair: Kumar Rasiah, Phone:
Secretary/Treasurer: Melbourne Nelson, Phone: +61 402 110 777

Lorraine Austin
Selwyn Dornan
Bernard Goldman
Stephen Rigby

Spiritual Life Group:
Coordinator Kath Bourke, Phone: +61 447 696 505
Bev Rigby, Phone: +61 2 4943 0450

Lorraine Austin
Elizabeth Cant
Lee Clayton