L’Arche communities consist of a small number of households integrated into a local neighborhood. Homes usually consist of four to six people, with and without intellectual disabilities. These people live in a family-like environment where each person contributes as he or she is able, helping with chores or cooking or perhaps bringing the gift of helping others to slow down and be more present to the moment.
The core members, as the people who have intellectual disabilities are called, are at the heart of the home. The assistants represent diverse cultural and religious traditions and may come from various countries. Some of our L’Arche communities also have some supported independent living settings or tenancy support programs. These programs include people with intellectual disabilities who live in their own tenancy setting and participate as much as they choose in the life of the L’Arche community and often have a particular relationship with one of the households.
Relationships are central in L’Arche. A L’Arche home is a place of growth, where each person is supported to attain his or her full potential. In the sharing of life together, each one also grows in self-understanding and understanding of others. Decisions concerning home life are made as much as possible at a weekly house meeting.
While government and related standards are fully adhered to, much effort goes into encouraging mutuality in relationships. There is a sense of shared ownership for the life and spirit of welcome that is typical of our households.
In our communities, meals are often times of laughter and celebration. The main meal of the day is almost always the evening meal and is usually delicious and carefully prepared, with attention to each person’s needs. The table is set attractively. Attention is given to seating so that those who need support have someone near them, and assistance is given with dignity and without undue attention. Conversation includes everyone. Each person has an opportunity to participate as they are able, perhaps helping pass various items, and to share about their day.
The spiritual dimension is important: Grace is said or sung at the beginning of a meal and after the meal there is usually a simple time of prayer. A candle may be lit, someone may offer a brief reading, and people take time in silence or, if they wish, may pray aloud, giving thanks or mentioning those whom they carry in their heart. Such simple times of prayer, done in an ecumenical or interfaith manner depending on who is present are, like the mealtimes, foundational to life in a L’Arche home.
Long-term stable friendships and relationships are important to any person’s growth and happiness. While L’Arche welcomes many assistants who come for a shorter experience of community, it also nurtures a body of long-term assistants and friends and former assistants who bring stability.
L’Arche homes are open and welcoming of the world around them and usually have a number of friends and volunteers. In addition, core members are helped to develop and maintain friendships outside L’Arche and to stay in touch with their family.