12+ Years of Serving as Community Leader…
As most of you know, I am retiring at the end of June after 12+ years as community leader, as I clean off my desk and reflect on the past 12 years many names, faces, victories and defeats come to mind. One of the faces that comes to mind is Pam McGrath who has been our director of development and outreach for the past 9 years. She helped me grow over the years as we moved into the intimidating (to me) world of fundraising and outreach. Pam is retiring this April. We will miss her. Community and Growth, the “bible” of L’Arche seems to have all the answers to the issues that plague communities, I have used it often over the years for wisdom and hope when confronted with the many challenges of community life. Even now in in the stage of life where I find myself, Jean has also included words of wisdom for “old age”. I believe that I have reached the point as I age to have “freedom from function and responsibility”. L’Arche has been a gift from God for me every day since I came to “Irenicon” in July of 2002. It has developed in me gifts I never knew I had, gave me the confidence and strength to meet the challenges and amplified my deficiencies that I wanted to ignore. I am grateful for all the men and women I have met in L’Arche who helped me with that growth, core members, donors, board members, staff and assistants who were and are a part of our accomplishments over my tenure. There are so many of you, whose work has got us to this point in our development, including the support of all those in the greater world of L’Arche USA who mentored me tirelessly. I only hope I can find “a new youth” going forward with a “child’s heart”.
“Each member of a community who grows in love and wisdom helps the growth of the whole community. Each person who refuses to grow, or is afraid to go forward, inhibits the community’s growth. All the members of a community are responsible for their own growth and that of the community as a whole.” Community and Growth by Jean Vanier (pg 131)
It is hard to assess one’s own growth, but I am proud of the growth that has happened in Irenicon, now L’Arche Boston North. When I arrived in 2002 to live with 2 women with disabilities, there were 8 core members in 2 homes. Today we have 17 core members in 4 homes. We grow slowly so we can continue to live our values, we are DIFFERENT and that is obvious to all who sit at our dinner table or encounter our core members and assistants working and enjoying life in the greater community in which we live. While living together is a core value of ours, the world in which we live is driven by numbers and fast paced growth –one area that this impacts is in raising money. Most funders want to see growth in numbers as a primary sign of growth. Our growth, while substantial, is not so easily quantified by these standards. Growth in numbers and homes is easy to see and quantify. Other growth is more personal, hidden, and therefore less evident to the casual observer. There is so much of that personal, hidden growth I have seen in 15 years. Core members have grown in skills and confidence as they “live with” each other and assistants. They experience things that assistants or friends introduce them to that may never have been available if it weren’t for the wide diversity in community.
I have seen an assistant grow from his summer volunteering in L’Arche to become a community leader in another L’Arche community. The impact of experiences with people who are different from ourselves cannot be over stated. One assistant told me that “I never would have met any of these people if I hadn’t come to L’Arche.” One can never remain in a bubble in L’Arche and so assistants move on and take with them the values they lived and experienced in living L’Arche, giving them a “different pair of glasses” in which to view the world.
I have seen growth in office staff and board members. They are the unsung heroes of all nonprofits, the skills they share, the hours of time spent is often not noticed by anyone else. Relationships are formed, comfort zones are stretched and all are celebrated by community for what he/she is inside. However, a lot of other work happens behind the scenes; budgets are written, reports are submitted, grants are written (funded or not), hours of research is done, lots of meetings are held, and so much more, all to help community function and thrive.
L’Arche Boston North is thriving. More than half of all the assistants and office staff have been in community more than 5 years. We have 4 very capable house leaders, 9 years of successful Taste of Spring events, core members who are well and living life to the fullest, visitors galore and several folks participating in leadership training at various levels. In fact, Jennifer Matthews who has been our program coordinator for over 10 years will become our new community leader on July 1st. The spirit is alive and well here and I like to think I have had something to do with that. L’Arche is changing due to new federal initiatives, the restructuring of L’Arche USA and in the different models of service for the developmentally disabled that are emerging. One thing that must not change is that L’Arche will continue to be a sign of hope for our desperate world. L’Arche is more important today than ever.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that you will continue to value what L’Arche does to keep our Boston North community thriving in the years ahead. Now more than ever, our world needs all the healing we can muster in daily life, your financial support makes that possible. I am grateful for all of you, some whom I have never met but are faithful donors, supporting our mission with your time, talents and money over many, many years. I will miss you but as many before me have said, “I will never be far from L’Arche”.