L'Arche creates home for all abilities

By Angela Singer

Not far from Wellington, in a town by the sea, is a community of people living, working and thriving together.

L’Arche began many years ago as a French Catholic community for people both with and without learning disabilities, says the Very Rev Marg Schrader, who is on the council of the L’Arche community.

The community attracts young people from all over the world to Paraparaumu, and currently has assistants from Japan, Switzerland, the United States and Germany. “We appreciate all our assistants”, Marg says, “but we would love to also have some New Zealanders”.

L’Arche has two houses with four core members living in each. Assistants live and work with the core members full-time, for short or long periods.

Marg says that coming into the L’Arche community is made easier for each assistant by the assignment of an accompanier, who is someone to whom they can talk and get feedback from.

“Our assistants are often young people who have experience of learning disability in their own families”, Marg says. “They are attracted to the spirituality of L’Arche. I can understand that; in many ways it is my spiritual community.” 

The assumption that their disabilities stop L’Arche members from participating is wrong, says Marg. “Some of the members work. We have great community involvement, with voluntary help from retired teachers and other people from the community who teach our core members art, drive vans and participate in services. Our core members attend church. We are not hidden away; our doors are open to visitors”. L’Arche welcomes the wider community to its events on the first Wednesday of every month at 7.30pm.

Catholic at its inception, Marg describes L’Arche as now “deeply interfaith”. PFrayer is an important part of the life of the community. Each core member has a friend and prayer partner. “They pray together every night. One of our members has limited speech so another member, Emmett, helps her by saying the prayer with her.”

Marg says that it is not surprising that L’Arche has a long waiting list of families who would like a family member to be a part its community. As L’Arche approaches its 10th anniversary, it is working on ways to grow so that more members can be welcomed. “We are excited about extending into a third house,” Marg says.

Those interested in becoming a L’Arche assistant or who would like to donate, volunteer, visit or participate in a L’arche event, can contact Marg Schrader at margschrader@clear.net.nz

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