L’Arche Greater Vancouver resident Patrick Byron enjoys making birthday cards during the pandemic. Photo courtesy L’Arche Greater Vancouver

Making L’Arche work during trying times

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • December 11, 2020

VANCOUVER -- Nineteen people with developmental disabilities and their assistants live in homes run by L’Arche Greater Vancouver, an organization founded on principles of intentional community and family-like living.

When COVID-19 struck, community spirit took on a whole new meaning as L’Arche worked to keep residents safe and its way of life intact.

“It’s been good, but it’s also hard because our members with disabilities are heart people. They just want to give their sister a hug, their mother a hug or their friend a hug,” said director of community programs Annette Kuhn. “It is challenging, but they learn and they understand that they need to keep a distance.”

In March, L’Arche closed all day programs, shut out visitors and made weekly prayer meetings virtual. It instructed members and assistants who live together to stay in their bubbles, wear masks when stepping outside, avoid crowded spaces and to social distance from anyone who doesn’t live in the home, including family.

Amid all these precautions to keep L’Arche COVID-free, assistants found ways to keep the spirit of intentional community alive.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, I put people in a van and we would go to different houses and honk and visit people at the homes,” said assistant Zenaide Correia. “We’d stop and go to the driveway and people would come out and say hi.”

They would also bake and drop off surprise treats for one another, or paint stones while praying for the neighbourhood and take a walk to distribute them. One group travelled between homes to serenade their fellow L’Arche members from outdoors.

One program that did not change much was Neighbours Helping Neighbours, a free service L’Arche members offer to about 45 local seniors involving outdoor tasks like yard work or recycling.

“We realized it was good for everybody,” said Kuhn. “Our members with disability, they are really caring for their customers,” and were worried about abandoning them during the pandemic. She said besides having to wear masks and not being able to sit down with a cookie or lemonade in a client’s home, it was business as usual.

Protecting 19 vulnerable people from exposure to COVID-19 has come with sacrifices. Kuhn said L’Arche assistants (some of whom live in the homes full time) have cut down on visiting their own family members, opted for driving or cycling instead of taking public transit and donned masks in public. While small public worship services were allowed, some participated in Mass virtually instead.

“Our members, many of them are seniors with underlying conditions, so a lot of support is needed,” said Kuhn.

L’Arche members with disabilities are also making sacrifices. Christina Bruce misses visiting her mom and dad, while Patrick Byron was able to see his parents and sister on his 57th birthday earlier this year, but physically distanced.

Now, with winter arriving, the community is once again facing questions about how to adapt, stay healthy and live like a family. Assistants have already come up with some ideas, including virtual dinner parties and a secret Santa gift exchange.

(The B.C. Catholic)

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