L’Arche Harbor House: Building relationships, transforming lives

Development director Lori Rush, executive director Amy Finn-Schultz and board member Shannon Henderson of L’Arche Harbor House

By Olga Bayer
Resident Community News

Located on a beautiful oak-laden campus in Arlington is a thriving community, fostered by love and born out of acceptance. L’Arche Harbor House, founded in 1985, provides a family-centered environment where core members — adult residents with intellectual disabilities — actively participate in the community and share their gifts with others.
Riverside resident Amy Finn-Schultz has served as the Executive Director of the nonprofit L’Arche Harbor House for six years, and said its goal is to “identify and nurture the gifts of every person,” bringing dignity and hope to those who might otherwise be labeled as different or marginalized by society.
Families with loved ones living at L’Arche Harbor House consider it a “godsend,” said Maripat Meide, soon-to-be resident of Old San Jose on the River. Her older brother Tommy has “blossomed” since moving to the community nine years ago.
“It’s a burning question for parents who have a child with a disability: Who’s going to take care of them when I’m gone,” she said. “Our family couldn’t be happier and Tommy couldn’t be happier. At L’Arche Harbor House, the core members are No. 1.”
As the only L’Arche community in Florida, L’Arche Harbor House is under the auspices of L’Arche International, with 140 communities across the world, and 18 in the United States. L’Arche assistants, many fresh out of college, flock to the group from all over the world to share in daily life with core members.
While L’Arche Harbor House empowers core members, it never fails to touch the heart and soul of everyone involved with its mission. Finn-Schultz refers to this as the L’Arche philosophy of “mutually transforming relationships.”
“People initially come here to help out and change lives, but learn quickly that they are gaining a new understanding of love and patience,” she said. “The same thing happens with the assistants. They come thinking they are going to help, but then they are transformed.”
Board member Shannon Henderson came to L’Arche Harbor House seven years ago with little knowledge of people with developmental disabilities. “It’s been transformational,” she said. “To get to know these 20 core members as individuals with amazing gifts and very individual personalities has been so enlightening.”
Core members are encouraged to do as much as they are capable of, participating in the life of the home and daily chores. They develop their hobbies and talents as artists and musicians. Like everyone else, they set life goals – whether it’s losing weight or learning to make dinner.
The holistic program ensures basic needs for health and safety, but challenges core members to grow, and offers a spiritual component. Diverse in their faith, core members attend various services and Bible studies around town. Many go off to jobs each day — some at Publix and Pizza Hut — or participate in day programs such as L’Arche’s Rainbow Workshop, where they create arts and crafts to sell to the public.
Volunteers are welcomed, and needed for everything from reading to helping with crafts. Mary Malone, co-owner of European Street Cafe, found her niche serving L’Arche Harbor House years ago, and treats core members to monthly dinners at her restaurants.
“The core members are just amazingly loving and beautiful people,” Malone said. “It’s a warm, family atmosphere. By volunteering, you get so much more out of it than you are ever giving.”
Development Director Lori Rush invites the public to visit L’Arche Harbor House’s Community Night open house on the first Thursday of each month. Seeing the organization as merely a potential job opportunity at first, she was surprised by the unconditional love she experienced, and believes people should “witness” it firsthand.
“I was welcomed in such a manner that I wish everyone could be welcomed,” Rush said. “When I left, I was determined that I would do whatever was necessary to obtain this job because that’s the kind of environment I wanted to work in. I’ve learned from the core members and I’m continuing to learn from them.”

Mark your calendar for a good time and a good cause…

Through Nov. 10:
Jaguars vs. New York Jets ticket raffle; drawing Nov. 15

Oct. 10: Wine-Down at JJ’s Bistro, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 15 – 21: Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open Nationwide Tour

Nov. 9: Cocktails for a Cause, University Club, 4:30 – 7:30 p.m.

March 11, 2013: 23rd Annual Golf Classic at TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course

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