We currently have four homes in our community, each with a personality of its own. Some homes have quieter core members (the term we use for the people with disabilities that are part of our community, as they are at the "core" of our life together), while others have folks that would be at a party every night of the week if they could. Our homes range in size from 4 to 10 people (assistants and core members).
Since the needs of each house varies, as does the pool of support we may have at any given time, there is a fluid mix of live-in assistants, respite support and volunteers in each home. The core members typically remain rooted in a specific home, unless the core member expresses a desire to switch homes, or it is deemed in the best interest of the core member to move homes.
Our life together is very much like any other family. Everyone contributes in their own way, working together as a whole. With so many different personalities coming together from such different backgrounds, this goal of working together cooperatively takes a lot of work! Yet we know that the work is worth it when the outcome is a home that is based on love and respect for each individual.
Many of the core members go to work or activity programs during the day. Assisstants spend their days doing household chores, attending community meetings, tending to the core members' needs, and taking time for themselves so that they can be present to the core members and each other in the afternoon and evening. Often a house will have one or two assistants on a day off, so life never flows quite as smoothly as it sounds, but we are blessed with a strong support of volunteers and respite providers to fill in the gaps.
Suppertime is a vital part of the day for each home. It is the primary event that consistently draws the whole house together each day. When possible, a core member may help an assistant prepare dinner, and cleaning the dishes are often a "family event". Each house ends their evening together with prayer in a format that best suits their home.
Outings are a much-loved pastime at L'Arche Tahoma Hope! Whether it's a quick trip to the grocery store, or a day on Mt. Rainier, we take all opportunities to enjoy these "treats". Some of the core members are involved in Special Olympics, others are in bowling leagues, and others like having tea parties....whatever the interests are, we make every effort to share these joys together.
Sunday services are a tradition in the homes as well. Our roots as a community are Catholic, and we have had a strong connection with St. Leo's Church in downtown Tacoma since our community was founded by two Jesuit priests living at St. Leo's at the time. Many of our core members are known by name there, and our presence as a community at St. Leo's is much valued. In more recent years, as assistants and core members of other denominations have come to our community, we have begun similar relationships in other churches in Tacoma, and our faith life as a community has deepened as a result of this new gift.
Although some core members plan and enjoy their own personal vacations (to visit a former assistant in another state, fulfill the dream of going to Graceland or Hawaii, or just spend a weekend at the ocean), the community takes group vacations every year in July. This is a chance for assistants and core members to "mix it up" between houses and spend a week doing what they love most with each vacation group having a unique pace and interest. These are typically very relaxing times as the distractions of daily life have been left behind.
We do have struggles in our homes that other families don't; the primary one being the coming and going of assistants. Most assistants make a one-year commitment when they first come to live in the community. Some extend that commitment and others are ready to move on to the next phase of their lives. For the core members, and for those assistants who do live long-term in our community, the process of welcoming and sending off person after person over the years is a great challenge. At the same time, we have been blessed to have so many wonderful people walk through our doors, and we recognize that each person has a unique gift to bring to our community during his/her time with us, a gift that remains long after they have left.