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L’Arche Sudbury rocks for a great cause, and a great friend

Fundraiser held to honour the organization’s 40th anniversary, as well as founding member Roma Griffin, who loved a good rocking chair

It was a rocking good time for a good cause May 28 as the staff, members and friends of L’Arche Sudbury came out to celebrate one of their own, Roma Griffin, and their 40th anniversary. 

L’Arche Sudbury is an agency that cares for people with disabilities, based on a community model and believing that people are best able to develop their abilities and talents when given the opportunity to form friendships with others. 

They created homes for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities that allow people like Roma to fully embrace every part of her, to make friends, to develop relationships, attend events and even sway the day away in her favourite rocking chair. 

There is a change to language, as persons with disabilities are called “core members,” rather than clients or patients. Those who provide assistance to core members in the homes are called “assistants,” rather than staff, employees or counsellors.  

Assistants and core members live together in homes or apartments in the same way that a family would live together, relationships based on friendship are considered to be as important as professional relationships in promoting the personal growth of persons with disabilities, and everyone in the home - core members and assistants alike - are considered to be equally responsible for the life of the community.

“It's our 40th anniversary and our founding core member, the original person with an intellectual disability that came and joined our community, Roma Griffin, passed away just in January of this year,” Jennifer McCauley, Executive Director, told Sudbury.com. “So we thought, how can we honour a Roma, and honour our 40th anniversary?”

The idea came down to 10 rocking chairs, lining a small section of Barrydowne Road, rocking for four hours. Ten rocking chairs multiplied by four is in honour of the 40th, but why rocking chairs?

Well, that was all Roma. 

Roma was considered a rocking chair aficionado, and she arrived with her own when she first moved into her new home at L’Arche. 

“If you needed to know where Roma was in the house, you just listened for the squeak and the chair,” said McCauley.And it’s very inclusive, anybody can come and rock or sit,  people can come and use their wheelchair, sit alongside have a cup of tea, have a chat, and make a donation or a pledge and raise some money and honor the work that we do.” 

Claire Trahan has done just about every job there is to do at L’Arche, and has been with the international organization for 50 years. She first became involved when she lived at L’Arche in France in her thirties, then ran the North Bay branch. Now, she is part of the board that will see the expansion of L’Arche Sudbury, a new affordable housing project in development and set to be on Bancroft Dr. 

“It's going to be wonderful,” said Trahan. “We’ll have a great big gathering space where people can come and do things, an activity place where we as a community can gather.” 

Trahan said the new housing would also continue the L’Arche tradition of family living, learning and loving.  

“Someone who has disabilities can sometimes function in an ordinary apartment, but there's loneliness, there’s isolation,” she said. “With our housing, members can live with the community as much as they want to, have a sense of belonging but also independence, to get the help they may need, and to learn different skills.” 

“People are saying L’Arche is the best kept secret, but we don't want to be a secret,” said McCauley with a laugh. “We want people to know about our passion, to know we offer places of belonging for people. We want people to know that L’Arche wants to be a part of the community. People with intellectual disabilities have such wonderful gifts to share and if we can open up our minds and our hearts to that, the whole city will be better.”

There is still time to donate to the fundraiser as it is open until June 4, and you can do so by clicking here. You can also find out more about the organization by clicking here.

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized, including the Black, Indigenous, newcomer and Francophone communities, as well as 2SLGBTQ+ and issues of the downtown core.