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Celebrating with L’Arche London: The Groundbreaking for “The Gathering Place” Community Centre
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By Nigel Garnaitis

L’Arche is an international organization that provides care for men and women with intellectual disabilities. Rather than provide institutional care, where lab coats, medical professionals, and impersonal hallways dominate the scene, L’Arche moves people into relational homes with others who are committed to love and care for them. London has three such homes - Bethany, Cana, and Jubilee houses – and an even larger community that stretches out into churches, homes, and schools across the city.

Although the L’Arche specializes in relational home-based care of its core members, it also provides day programs for many people with intellectual disabilities throughout the city of London. Currently, they run their programs out of churches, schools, and YMCAs. To do so, they cart around all their supplies, setting up and tearing down after every event. This means the L’Arche community has had to focus more on delivering their current programs, rather than expanding them to meet the growing need in the community.

On June 29 the organization hosted a celebratory ground-breaking ceremony at the corner of Colonel Talbot Road and Sunray Avenue. After over 25 years of hoping, dreaming, and fundraising, L’Arche London will finally have a place to call its own. On a parcel of L’Arche-owned property there, L’Arche will be building “The Gathering Place,” an 8,000 square foot community centre for these very day programs and activities. In the midst of local political dignitaries, community leaders, and hovering cameras from regional media outlets, the members of L’Arche celebrated their new community centre’s first stages of construction.

Even though no bricks have yet been laid, the Gathering Place is already an incredibly significant place for the London community. This was clear from the many politicians and dignitaries who were present. Elgin-Middlesex MPP Jeff Yurek shared his excitement at the $150,000 grant the project received from the Ontario Trillium Foundation – the largest Yurek has ever seen. Mayor Matt Brown also remarked at the significance of the Gathering Place in helping make London a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of life situation.

During the ceremony, it was clear that the L’Arche community was excited about having a place to extend welcome and friendship. Jim Blaire, who’s daughter Janette was L’Arche London’s founding core member, was absolutely delighted to see the organization expand its reach. “I never expected to see [Janette] develop to the state she’s in today. What a wonderful person she is, and I thank the community for it. … Now today we stand on the next big project. We’ve seen the plans, and all I can say is, let’s get it done!” There was a tangible sense that this would be a place where many more people could be loved and welcomed just as Janette had been years ago.

L'Arche core member with Sandra Quijano
The excitement was palpable among the members of the L’Arche houses and broader community. Sandra Quijano leads L’Arche London’s day programs, driving the big vans filled with materials for line dancing, arts and crafts, and music to their numerous locations across the city. When I asked Quijano what excites her about the new centre, the ease of a permanent space was only a part of the picture: “I am very excited about having the ability to be open to the entire community, because there is a lot of need out there,” she commented. “Especially for children that are coming out of high school after they turn twenty-one ... We would be able to accommodate some of those needs.”

Quijano mentioned that L’Arche London’s leadership had debated establishing a fourth house instead of the community centre. As they examined their position within the community, it became apparent to them that The Gathering Place would be a better way of extending welcome and foster belonging to the gifted and growing L’Arche community.

Marietta Drost with core member

Friends of L'Arche,
Catherine and Sean
What can you expect from the centre? You can expect a place where people are celebrated, gifts are shared, and friendships are fostered. When I asked L’Arche London’s Executive Director Marietta Drost about the kind of gifts that would be shared at The Gathering Place, she thought of the passions and abilities of the core members. “The gifts of our core members are really central. I think when we look at a person like Melissa, who has a real passion for our Bonjour café, this is really a place where she can share her gift, [and] welcome people to enjoy her gift ... Their desire and gift for participating is at the heart of it.”

The L’Arche leaders I spoke with emphasized how much the core members love to make new friends! In fact, many seemed to see The Gathering Place as a friendship incubator! Drost did not see this as a surprise, as it is an outpouring of L’Arche’s philosophy. “A key part of our identity at L’Arche is this mutual presence where we experience transformation and joy in our lives,” she commented. “It really is at the heart of it. I look forward to sharing our community and some of the participatory activities with more people in London!”

The Gathering Place will open its doors sme time in 2017, as construction is expected to take at least 10 months. There is also significant fundraising that is still required, as another million dollars is still required on top of the $1.6 million that has already been raised. In the midst of it all, the community is optimistic. Drost mentions that God’s provisions have been tangible during the entire journey. ““God shows us in big ways and little ways that he is providing,” she said confidently.

If you are at all interested in getting involved with L’Arche London, or exploring more of the community’s activities and products, visit their website: