Saskatoon’s second home in Saskatoon, with (from left) L’Arche Saskatoon chair Myron Rogal, executive director Wyndham Thiessen, residents Shaun Becker and Christopher Powell, Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor, Saskatoon City Councillor Bev Dubois, and Saskatchewan Education Minister Don Morgan. (Photo by Kiply Yaworski)
SASKATOON — With great joy, L’Arche resident Christopher Powell cut the ribbon to officially open Alma House, the second L’Arche home in Saskatoon, during a celebration Dec 2 that included residents, family members and friends, board members and government representatives.
Located at 546 Christopher Lane in southeast Saskatoon, the newly renovated Alma House is home to four core residents and four live-in assistants who share life together in a model pioneered by Jean Vanier some 52 years ago in France.
“We all need community, a place of belonging, a place where we can celebrate and be committed to each other, a place where we learn to accept ourselves as we are and to forgive,” Vanier says in a quote summarizing the L’Arche vision.
Today there are over 150 L’Arche communities around the world in 37 different countries, including 29 in Canada, noted executive director Wyndham Thiessen.
Historically, L’Arche stood at the start of the movement to de-institutionalize care for those with intellectual disabilities, said Thiessen, describing how the L’Arche vision was born when Jean Vanier went to visit people living in institutions and was struck by their loneliness, isolation and longing for friendship.
Vanier welcomed two men who had been living in an institution to come and live with him, and this vision of L’Arche was born. “This vision was of people with and without disabilities, sharing life together, creating mutual relationships and friendships, creating a place where everyone and their gifts can be celebrated,” Thiessen explained.
Two of the four core residents now living at Alma House are former residents of Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw. That institution is closing, and residents are gradually being moved into residential care.
“It is a pleasure to be here today, especially to be here for (core residents) Christopher, Milton, Adeline and Shaun,” said Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor.
“I know that two of you have come from Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw, and I am really thrilled to see you experiencing life in the community of your choice, while living in a great new home.”
She emphasized the importance of a home environment, such as that shared at Alma House. “It really means belonging, it means inclusion and it’s good for all of us as well,” Beaudry-Mellor said. “It might seem like a simple thing, but a sense of belonging is important for all of us, just like clothing and shelter. I am really proud of the work across the province to open homes like this.”
The government of Saskatchewan provided some $560,000 toward the mortgage of Alma House, as well as some $420,000 in annual operational funding.
“It’s an investment that will go a long way toward insuring the residents of this home are included, supported, and living enriched lives in the Saskatoon community, and also aligns with our government’s commitment to make Saskatchewan a more inclusive and accessible province for all people, no matter what their abilities are.”
L’Arche Saskatoon board chair Myron Rogal also spoke, thanking partners in government and the community, and expressing appreciation for the provincial ministry’s “person-centred approach.”
L’Arche Saskatoon also operates Christopher House, which opened in 2008 as a home to four core residents and four live-in assistants, as well as providing vocational support for adults with intellectual disabilities in a workshop day program in Saskatoon.
“In 2012 we began the workshop to facilitate interaction with the wider community. With ministry funding in 2015, that workshop was transformed to a full-time program,” Rogal said. “Our workshop is designed to meet the needs of individuals, particular to their abilities, and aligned with their interests, the workshop encourages expression through art, music and other mediums.”
Workshop participants come from beyond the L’Arche community, he noted, and also serve others in the community through various projects and initiatives.
For the past 17 years, monthly Friends of L’Arche gatherings have also been held in Saskatoon, Rogal added. “They are an opportunity to come together as friends and family to support those with intellectual disabilities in the wider community, who live beyond the walls of these homes.”
Thiessen explained the evolution and meaning of the name Alma House, noting the crabapple tree that grows in the yard.
“One of our assistants who had a Hungarian background said that the Hungarian word for apple is alma. So we started thinking about that word,” Thiessen said. “Alma is a word that actually has meanings in different languages: it means ‘soul’ in Spanish and ‘on the water’ in Arabic, but it also means ‘nourishing’ in Latin.”
Thiessen concluded: “That’s my hope and that’s my prayer for this home, for Alma House: that the people who live here will be nourished — and that those who come and visit, and are part of the life of this home, will be nourished as well — by the relationships that they build here.”