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L’Arche opens a second house in Saskatoon

By Darlene Polachic
The StarPhoenix


SASKATOON — In February 2016, exactly eight years after its first home opened in Saskatoon, L’Arche Saskatoon will welcome residents to its second house.

L’Arche serves individuals with high-needs disabilities, says director Wyndham Thiessen. “Each home has four residents plus four live-in assistants. Our homes follow the model of the L’Arche communities first established in France by Jean Vanier where assistants live in the same house as the individuals they assist.”

The multi-bedroom dwelling L’Arche Saskatoon recently acquired is on Christopher Lane, a block from the first house.

“We are on target to welcome the first two people in February,” Thiessen says, “and are seeking donations of quality furniture and other household items for the new house.”

He says some renovations still need to be done, including converting the double attached front garage into two bedrooms and a bathroom. “We have two future residents who are in wheelchairs.”

The house is part of a province-wide initiative to provide new homes for individuals currently living in the Valley View institution near Moose Jaw. “One hundred and eighty people with disabilities live there, and it is a priority of the government to relocate them all. Two of the people coming to our second L’Arche house are coming from Valley View.”

Providing quality activities for L’Arche residents is an ongoing priority. A recent innovation is the establishment of a workshop program that enables group members to be involved with healthy, productive activities. The program is partly social, but aims to fulfil its motto of “Making art, making friends, making peace.”

With funding from the Ministry of Social Services, the program has moved from part-time to full-time status, and a grant from the Kinsmen Foundation provided for the purchase of a wheelchair-accessible van.

The home base for the workshop program is Zion Lutheran Church. Thiessen says group members go out in the morning, do something fun in the city — “maybe go for coffee, or go for a walk” — then return to the church for lunch and some creative activity.

Volunteers assist with the activities. One is a weaver who taught the group to make bookmarks and Christmas cards. They’ve also done some pottery and cardmaking

“We’ve started selling the crafted items,” Thiessen says. “The goal is to grow the workshop program over time and possibly turn it into a paying industry.”

“The workshop project seems to work well for our people. Some of them have tried other work placements, but prefer this. It’s more relaxed and they’re involved in meaningful activities. It’s also an opportunity to be with other people and build relationships.”

“Variety is important for our people,” Thiessen says. “Doing different things prevents boredom. They have a range of abilities and skills. A couple are able to take the bus to the workshop program. Others have higher needs. It’s a challenge to figure out ways everyone can participate and be involved.”

The L’Arche community includes a group called Friends of L’Arche which gathers monthly. This is a collection of people who came to hear Jean Vanier speak about L’Arche at Queen’s House in the 70s. The group wanted to start a L’Arche Home in Saskatoon, but were counselled to start by building relationships and getting to know people with disabilities and their families. The vision was revived in 2000 and Friends of L’Arche was formed.

The group meets the third Wednesday of every month in Grace-Westminster Hall. Fifty or 60 people share pizza and salads and enjoy an activity of some sort from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. “We meet, eat, play drama games or bingo, or enjoy guest performers or musicians,” Thiessen says. “It’s a social time and a support system for like-minded people.

“I know parents who have build strong relationships there. And we’ve seen people who were terribly shy in the beginning now comfortable coming to a microphone and sharing what’s going on in their life.”

For more information contact Thiessen at 306-262-7243 or

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