From Presence to Citizenship to Community

By John Guido

Recently, I took part in the From Presence to Citizenship Learning Exchange in Toronto. To be honest, I didn’t want to go because I often find these “developmental services sector” conferences a bit frustrating – they’re full of big ideas and aspirational language, but does it lead to improvement in the lives of the people we support? However, since L’Arche needs to be part of this dialogue, I needed to be there.

People Driving Change Together

The keynote speaker was Paul Born a global leader in collective impact and community innovation who uses his gifts for storytelling and facilitating conversation to mobilize people to build “vibrant communities.” Midway through the morning, he was joined online by Peter Block, author, consultant, and public speaker in the areas of organizational development, community building, and civic engagement.

Above: Paul Born

From the moment Paul came on stage, you could feel the energy in the room rise. With the passion of a preacher, he shared stories from his days in the early years of the inclusion movement – before policies, services, and standards were entrenched, when you had to be creative, risk-taking, and cooperative in order to make things happen for people with intellectual disabilities, many just coming out of institutions.

Paul called us to see intellectual disabilities in a different light – as assets, gifts to be shared, part of what we need for the world, a source of transformation. He named the visionaries of the day who inspired him: Wolf Wolfensberger (normalization), People First (self-advocates), and Jean Vanier (L’Arche). This vision and lived-experience supporting persons with disabilities have been foundational to Paul’s subsequent work in poverty reduction, a road that led to co-founding the Tamarack Institute.

Paul didn’t focus on solving the complex problems of the developmental services sector. Instead, he called us to explore the power of community, welcoming the gifts and unleashing the collective impact of people working together. He invited us to move out of our silo into a wider community building space, the only way true inclusion is possible. It reminded me of Citizen Network which states, “We are all citizens, we are all equal, and we all have a contribution to make. But this contribution can only be made through community – by working with others.”

The Power of Community

Some of the wisdom that Paul Born has discovered over the years is collected in his book Deepening Community – Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times. He recounts that he is often asked, “What is the most important thing people can do to make a difference in the world?” He replies, “That’s simple. Bring chicken soup to your neighbor.” While the answer is simple, “the act of bringing chicken soup… well, that takes work.” You must know your neighbor, their likes, their needs, their culture, and whether they want your help. It takes time, energy, and commitment to be a good neighbor.

Community is about working together, mutual support, a sense of place and the common good, and the experience of belonging. “Mutual acts of caring happening often” is how belonging is created. Around the campfire, sharing our stories, eating meals together, we become friends who belong to each other, who help each other not only in mutual support but also in becoming our best selves. For Paul, it’s clear that you can’t separate citizenship from belonging, “because I belong I become a citizen.”

And we know the impact of the breakdown of community – isolation and loneliness, an epidemic of modern times. Studies show that chronic loneliness is bad for our health, worse than obesity and similar in impact to smoking. In an era of

  • “Shallow community” built on years of individualism, consumerism, and over-reliance on professionals to meet our needs versus
  • “Fear-based community” which binds us together by our opposition to whatever threatens or disturbs us,

the need for “deep community” has never been greater.

Community Conversations

Throughout the morning, Paul had the group come together in triads of people who didn’t know each other to practice listening – it was an extraordinary experience of community building. Paul credited this practice to Peter Block who joined us online from his home in Cleveland. Peter took us further into the importance of conversations – especially with people who differ from us and we may not even like. He gave us a small taste of his work, encouraging us to talk about possibilities rather than problems.

Left: Peter Block

Like Paul, Peter encouraged us to welcome the gifts that come with disability and spoke about the power of community – the data shows that our health and happiness are determined by our social capital, our networks of relationship and belonging. Along with John McKnight, co-founder of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), Peter has written Abundant Community exploring ways in which neighbourhoods that welcome the gifts of every member can build a hope-filled life.

A vision for the future

The movement for diversity and inclusion begins in belonging. Persons with intellectual disabilities and others who are vulnerable and marginalized cannot be included if there isn’t a community of welcome where they can belong and contribute their unique gifts and abilities. L’Arche and other disabilities organizations need to imagine their central mission as building community rather than providing services if we are to have greater impact.

And people with disabilities need to take their place as co-leaders and co-learners in this process of systems transformation and community building. It’s not enough for them to ‘fit in’ to the norms of society; they need to take an active role in the process of changing these norms. The gifts of disability and of individuals with disabilities are essential for creating vibrant communities and a more human society.


Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.

Companions on the Journey: Part Two

The road of transformation has its breakthrough moments, yet it takes many twists and turns along the way. That’s why we need to nourish ourselves and the fellowship we share.

Companions on the Journey: Part One

John and Greg talk about how their friendship took root and has grown through mutual support for over thirty years.

Creative Connections

Creative Connections is a space for making art with persons with intellectual disabilities. It promotes belonging, diversity, and inclusion while extending the impact of L’Arche in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Continuing the Journey in Unity and Hope

With people around the world, the family of L’Arche mourned the death and celebrated the life of our founder, Jean Vanier. We are called to stay on his path.

L’Arche Joliette’s Zoom Media

This team of creators, designers and technicians offers full sound, image and video services to make their collaborators shine!

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life.

Sage and Time

Making community art unleashes creativity and builds bridges between seniors and the wider Sudbury community.

Inclusion Begins With Me

A conference on inclusion organized by L’Arche Agapè was an occasion to deepen understanding and recognize that “change will be achieved by breaking down barriers and creating awareness among people”.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

A play inspired by the stories of persons institutionalized for having intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends.

Journey to the Greatest Gift

In a Gala celebration, L’Arche Daybreak celebrated 50 years of creating the Beloved Community, discovering the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily life – albeit with magic and space travel thrown in.

From Presence to Citizenship to Community

In order to promote meaningful inclusion, we need to build communities that welcome the gifts and contributions of all their members.

Give People their Place

As we celebrate the 50th of L’Arche in Canada, we’re amplifying the voices of persons with lived experience, sharing insights on creating belonging, diversity and inclusion in Canada.

Building a model of Inclusive Housing in Elmira, Ontario

Over the past decade, L’Arche has been connecting with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation to learn how they are building “supportive affordable housing” for persons with intellectual disabilities, and to share our vision and experience.

Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

Hearts and Hands, the creative arts space of L’Arche Antigonish, is promoting creative expression, belonging, and inclusion in Nova Scotia through community arts.

Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

What belonging, diversity, and inclusion mean to me

L’Arche Canada is launching an online reflection to Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion by listening to the voices of persons with lived-experience and those who share life with them.

An Innovative Model of Life-Sharing in the Comox Valley

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada. The Vanier Suites of L’Arche Comox Valley are a new model of shared living renewing the vision of L’Arche.

Presenting… Ross!

Now we’re delighted to introduce you to Ross Moncrieff, the second of the two individuals with intellectual disabilities selected for a session with a professional photographer.

Measuring Impact in the Movement for Inclusion

L’Arche delegates reflect on their experience and learning from the December 3rd Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion titled “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

“Painting is the song of the heart”

This artwork embodies the innate human desire to create a personal, physical mark which holds our fragile identity in the strength of an intentional creative gesture.

Presenting… Tiana!

Our friend Gil invited us to think about the importance of being “in the camera,” and inspired us to invite others to take their turn. We are delighted to introduce you to Tiana!

Community arts create a world where everyone is valued and belongs

The community arts movement and organizations like Art Hives build stronger communities and a more human society. L’Arche celebrates the unique gifts of artists and the community creative spaces where they thrive.

Celebrate the Gift

In October 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and of L’Arche In Canada. We will take time in the next 12 months to share our stories in many creative ways. L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, celebrating the gifts of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

L’Arche Tova Café promotes Belonging and Inclusion in Winnipeg

Social purpose businesses or enterprises focused on food and hospitality are vibrant and innovative ways to promote belonging and inclusion. For over 6 years, L’Arche Tova Café has led the way not only for the city of Winnipeg, but also for L’Arche in Canada.

Storytelling “with”

L’Arche storytelling puts belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the centre to help us “imagine the world differently.”

Where is happiness, where is it…?

Happiness is a trendy topic. There are as many definitions of happiness as there are individuals, yet never has a civilization developed such precise models and ideas of what happiness should be.

Institutional life – a bit of context

Raphael Amato offers some background on the role of institutions in the 20th century

Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people

Each message pays tribute first to a person’s story, highlighting and sharing the richness and diversity of these heartfelt testimonies.

L’Arche International Family Day

The first Saturday of October is L’Arche International Family Day. Discover the gift of L’Arche around the world and celebrate our solidarity with one another.

Setting our course for the next 50 years

Looking forward to an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

Investing in Justice for Institutional Survivors

Patricia Seth, an institutional survivor, put it this way, “It was like living in a prison. The only thing is, we didn't know when we would even get out.” Inspired by the founding story of L’Arche, L’Arche in Ontario is engaging in Investing in Justice, a series of projects promoting healing and belonging, truth and reconciliation for survivors.

L’Arche Montérégie Art Workshop “Le Pot-en-ciel”

Le Pot-en-ciel is an art workshop that would not be if it weren’t for one member of L’Arche Montérégie who dreamed of a place where he and fellow artists could draw and paint together in a spirit of sharing and mutual teaching. Photography by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx.

Summer in the Forest: One L’Arche Perspective

Summer in the Forest is an extraordinary film – a feature-length documentary by British filmmaker Randal Wright beautifully shot and scored. The subjects of the film are Jean Vanier and several members of his community of L’Arche Trosly in France and of the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Vanier speaks in English with dialogue in French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

Holocaust Education Week: Remembering Aktion T4, the Nazi Euthanasia Program

A few years ago, I went with Mel Kirzner, a man with an intellectual disability who welcomed me to L’Arche in 1985, to visit the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the Reena Community Residence in Vaughan.

Social Inclusion Cannot Exist without True Community and Friendship

L’Arche Canada is participating in a series of round tables on the theme of “Living Together” – sharing life with and including persons who are vulnerable and marginalized in the heart of our communities.

L’Arche Canada’s monthly e-mail review of news, stories, and commentary about what is happening in L’Arche, with our partners, and within Canadian society.