Catholic Vancouver Sept. 24, 2018

L’Arche gets expansion down to a fine art

By Agnieszka Ruck

L’Arche unveiled plans to redevelop its Burnaby property at an art show and meet-and-greet with Archbishop Miller. The organization wants to expand services and become more accessible for members with disabilities. (Daniel de Regt photos)

A community built around love for people with developmental disabilities is undergoing ground-breaking changes.

L’Arche of Greater Vancouver has been running housing, offices, community events, and a prayer space on Sussex Avenue in Burnaby since 1974. With a building more than 50 years old, according to L’Arche, it’s time for it to go.

“It was actually a home for unwed mothers that the United Church built and gifted to us for a nominal sum,” said executive director Denise Haskett. Now, the organization has found the building is old, too small, and inaccessible for many of the people they serve.

“Today, things are very different for children with developmental disabilities” compared with 44 years ago, said Haskett. Increasing programs exist for schools and young families, but “there is still a long way to go in terms of supporting people once they become adults.”

The Burnaby property will be redeveloped to make way for a three-story wood frame structure, complete with L’Arche residences for adults, community inclusion spaces, a chapel, offices, 10 independent living units, and 29 affordable housing units.

The charity was founded in France in 1964 when Canadian Catholic humanitarian Jean Vanier invited two men from an institution near his home to live with him.

“Essentially, they wanted a friend. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being, ” Vanier said.

L’Arche community members at the art show.

Since then, L’Arche has spread to 37 countries with 152 communities where people with and without developmental disabilities live together.

Currently, L’Arche’s Sussex Avenue building houses 19 people with and 17 people without developmental disabilities while serving another 20 thanks to its community inclusion programs.

They unveiled their plans to redevelop the land (at a price tag of $5 million) during a meet-and-greet with Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, Sept. 13.

“The excellent community environment and personal relationships that L’Arche fosters are true reflections of the love and ministry of Jesus,” Archbishop Miller said.

He described the fundraising and rebuilding campaign, called We All Belong, as timely and necessary for the local Church and for Greater Vancouver. “I am grateful for the presence of this unique ministry in our city.”

Archbishop Miller thanks L’Arche members and supporters.

The event included 16 special guests and a private art show of 18 never-before-seen works by L’Arche community members.

“It was a lovely opportunity for the people to encounter L’Arche,” said Haskett, who has been involved in the community for 30 years.

“I’ve come to discover it as a movement for peace in our world because it’s like a mini United Nations. There are people from all different religions and cultural faith traditions committed to building community together,” she said.

“There is an incredible diversity of people. We’re contributing to a little trickle of peace in our world.”

L’Arche began studying accessibility and housing options at its Sussex Avenue location in 2009 and hired its developer in 2016. To date, it has received $1.65 million in donations and pledges.

Construction is slated to begin in the fall of 2019. Homes, programs, and offices will relocate during the work. One other L’Arche centre exists in B.C., in Comox Valley.