L'Arche Tahoma Hope began in 1977 with a knock on the door.....a patient, persistent knock. At the time, David Rothrock and Fr. Peter Byrne were co-pastors of St. Leo's Parish. St. Leo's is located in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood; a neighborhood that is quite challenged by society's standards, but one that has much heart and soul. One evening, around 6pm, David and Peter heard a knock on their door. Upon answering the door, they found Fred Kobel and Greg Hanon.. Fred and Greg were housemates at a nearby facility, and stopped by to say "hi". As it was the dinner hour, David and Peter invited them in for dinner. The rest, they say, is history....
That was the first of many nights in a row when David and Peter would hear a knock on their door at 6pm sharp. They tell a funny story of one night when it was well past 6pm, and the hosts were nervous that something may have happened to their regular guests, as they were never this late. A look out the front window calmed their fears. There were Greg and Fred, impatiently pacing at the stoplight across the street!
David had spent time with Jean Vanier in L'Arche in Trosly, France, so somewhere along the line it made sense to David and Peter that they invite Greg and Fred to live with them. Thankfully for the hundreds (and hundreds) of assistants, core members, families and friends who have been touched by L'Arche Tahoma Hope over the years, Fred and Greg accepted the invitation.
As with many communities, life in the early days of Tahoma Hope were quite lean and unstructured. There was an organic-ness about the community which has contributed to our rich foundation. Many of the assistants who lived with Greg and Fred (at the house later named Hilltop House) also worked or volunteered other places in Tacoma, often with marginalized people. There was a close bond between Hilltop House and Nativity House, a daytime shelter in downtown Tacoma that was also begun by David Rothrock. A number of assistants lived at Hilltop House and worked at Nativity House in the early days.
As the community slowly grew over the years, with the arrival of Bill Downey, Sharilynn Heinzman, Wally McGough, Les Liese, Richard Wetzel, Dick Sutherland and other core members, we started a second home - the Farmhouse. This house was in the Parkland area and was on 8 acres of land, allowing the community to also begin Farm and Gardens in response to the need for some of the core members to have something meaningful to do during their days. To find out more about L'Arche Farm and Gardens, click here. The main offices for the community were also housed in the upstairs of the Farmhouse.
In the mid 1980's, Rainier School, a local institution, went through a period of downsizing and, in repsonse to that, we started Anawim, our third house. Anawim had previously been the convent for Sacred Heart Parish, but with the nuns no longer a part of the parish, the size of the house was perfect for a L'Arche home. Anawim welcomed Ricky Durham and Carie Halle from Rainier School, and around the same time, Nancy Tyson joined the Farmhouse family from Spokane. Over the years we have been blessed to welcome many core members into our community. Each person, whether they remained with us for one year or twenty years, left an imprint on L'Arche Tahoma Hope, and we are a richer, stronger community because of their time with us.
For many years, we had a dream of opening a house of prayer and welcome. That dream was finally realized in the late 1980's with the purchase of a house in a wooded area very close to the Farmhouse. Hopespring was born. The garage was converted into a chapel, some yurts were donated, and the house itself was remodeled to include a wing that was conducive to retreats while the main portion of the house functioned as a small L'Arche home. To the west of Hopespring was a property with a warehouse on it that, in true L'Arche fashion, was imagined into our much-needed new office space.
Although it had been a low income neighborhood for many years, Tacoma's Hilltop suffered through a violent period in the late 1980's. There was an influx of drugs and gang activity that created an unsafe environment in which to be responsible for the well-being of our community members. After a long and difficult decision process, we agreed that the Hilltop was no longer a safe place for our flagship home to be located. The vibrancy and heart of the Hilltop neighborhood, and the relationships we had with other communities and neighbors there, were deeply woven into our identity as a community. Much of this identity has remained embedded in the essence of our community life, but that didn't lessen the painfulness of this necessary move.
With the move of Hilltop House, we took the opportunity to begin our 5th house, Esperanza. The new Hilltop house was located in Parkland as well, and Esperanza was to the east of Hopespring. Esperanza served as a traditional L'Arche home originally, and then later became home to Noah's Workshop, our day activity center. Before we had room at Esperanza, Noah's Workshop was located in the garage of a board member. Noah's Workshop has grown over the years to provide a number of different programs for our core members for whom traditional employment is not a good fit.
In 1991, another long-held dream of our community's came to be. We opened Ananda, our home for children with severe disabilities and Bobby Buchanan was the first child to join us. As time passed, it became apparent that the medical needs of children with profound disabilities was more than our community was able to safely handle so we transitioned Ananda into a more traditional L'Arche home. This decision was another very difficult one for us to come to because of the richness that the children living at Ananda brought to our community life, but the reality of all that was asked of our assistants, many of them young, was more than we could sustain.
The past decade has been one of paring down and stabilization for the community. Over time we incorporated community members at both Hilltop and Esperanza into our other 4 remaining homes, transitioning Hopespring into a traditional L'Arche home at the same time. Noah's Workshop is now located at Hopespring, and we enjoy the connectedness we feel having Farmhouse, Ananda, Hopespring, Noah's Workshop, our Main Office and Farm & Gardens within walking distance of each other. It is equally as important and lifegiving to have Anawim "half way into town" to keep us connected to our roots in downtown Tacoma. You could say we enjoy the best of both worlds!