What does Jean mean toThe Arts of Life and L’Arche Chicago?
“Jean believes in The Arts of Life community”, says Steve Nazaran, Community Coordinator at L’Arche, an international federation of intentional communities in which people with and without intellectual disabilities live, work, play and pray together, creating home. Steve remembers a meeting before she joined the studio where Jean stated, “I guess workshops just don’t work for me”. She felt they weren’t invested in her and, in return, she wasn’t invested in them. “The Arts of Life is a natural extension of her life in L’Arche and something that she believes is really worth investing in”, says Steve.
Jean was the original connection between The Arts of Life and L’Arche Chicago, and she played an important leadership role to both communities. L’Arche knew the studio environment would be a good change for Jean and were looking forward to her growth as an artist and an individual. But what L’Arche didn’t see, says Nazaran, “was how profoundly this new relationship would change L’Arche”.
When working with people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, it is often challenging to find people and organizations who share similar philosophies in supporting them. In order to really help an individual grow, both the residential and vocational providers need to have a similar philosophy around the way they interact with and advocate for people. “Through Jean joining the studio, we learned that L’Arche and The Arts of Life share the same philosophy”, L’Arche executive director, Alex Conroy stated “each person’s interests and talents-and that includes staff members-should be nurtured and shared in a larger community”.
This shared philosophy had a powerful impact on Jean and other members of L’Arche were encouraged to try the studio and see if it had the same effect of them. Rebekah Flores, Program Coordinator, says that “seeing how Jean’s approach to life and her challenges have been so very positively impacted by the artistic outlet and the genuine relationships she has built really encouraged other core members, Christianne and Tim, to see if this environment would be a better opportunity for them”. Through the positive change they saw in Jean and the pride she held for her artwork and the studio community, she was able to encourage them to make a change and join The Arts of Life.
Our existing studio members were also positively affected by the partnership. Our founding artist, Veronica, met the L’Arche community and was instantly drawn to them. For the last year of her life she lived at L’Arche and for the first time in her life she had her own room.
In 2008, Mike Marino, an Arts of Life artist, was heading towards an ICF/DD (that would make him no longer eligible for The Arts of Life) because several other agencies said his medical condition was “too high risk for a CILA”. But because L’Arche felt they had a true partner in The Arts of Life, they knew they would be working with a team to support Mike. Mike’s mom, Kathy, often says that she “never imagined Mike’s life would be so perfect.”
All of these lives were changed because Jean was willing to give The Arts of Life a chance. L’Arche and The Arts of Life are richer because of Jean and we think it’s important to thank her for her leadership and recognize her as the amazing woman she is.