Twenty-five years ago, educational leaders’ right here in our region pioneered a school system that embraced people with developmental disabilities.
Lock Mawhinney, a well-known educator, principal and pioneer of Special Needs education, realized that despite the efforts to give people with developmental disabilities access to education, once they left the school system, their lives reverted to being isolated and on the sidelines, devoid of meaningful relationships outside their families.
He also found compelling evidence that the lives of these people were enriched by being part of a unique community of inclusion, founded by another Canadian.
Living In Community
Fifty years ago, in 1964, Canadian humanitarian and social visionary Jean Vanier, distressed by the institutionalization and isolation of people with developmental disabilities, founded what has today become an international organization of communities in 40 countries. These communities are dedicated to creating environments where people of disability can achieve their full potential and contribute their talents and gifts to those around them.
Vanier, the son of former Governor General George Vanier and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in his own right, created an independent network of communities he called L’ARCHE – the French word meaning “The Ark” – to accelerate the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities into the daily life of communities.
In 2000, Lock Mawhinney and a group of dedicated volunteers embraced this concept and created L’Arche Comox Valley with the opening of Jubilee House in Courtenay; followed later by the creation of an Outreach and Creative Arts Centre that has become a thriving and valuable community resource.
Meaningful work and daytime activity are important to a person’s dignity. By building a community of neighbours, friends and volunteers, the Outreach and Creative Arts Centre integrates individuals from throughout the community into a wide circle of caring people through daily, weekly and monthly activities.
Since it opened, The Centre has moved three times in order accommodate the increasing numbers of people who want to be involved. It has become a place where people can participate in creative work, socialize, seek assistance, and use as a home base from which to find volunteer or other employment opportunities in our community.
Jubilee House is the household in Courtenay where people who have developmental disabilities, along with volunteers who come to assist, share life and daytime activities together in a family-like setting.
Each person contributes as they are able. Home life is the cornerstone of L’Arche. Meals, birthdays and times of prayer are small but cherished celebrations that strengthen the bond between the six to eight people sharing the home.
More than just inclusion, the philosophy is about making the most of life! Living with others emphasizes what a person can accomplish, give and learn. Just as in a family, all members of the community are responsible for the group’s well-being.
Moving Forward: Transforming Lives …. Enriching Communities
In 2014, fourteen people with developmental disabilities in the Comox Valley needed residential support, with no suitable housing available at the time.
The Board members of the non-profit society, L’Arche Comox Valley, and a committed group of community leaders moved forward with a plan to expand the facilities and services of this most important community resource.
This led to the construction of a ” place of belonging”- a facility that includes residences, creative arts programs and outreach services.
Located at 1465 Grieve Avenue and set to open in June 2017, the I Belong Centre is a community asset, open to all. It consists of two components.
The first is a 3,972 square foot facility for educational and social activities: four large activity rooms and studios, a large drop-in foyer, kitchen and administration offices with capacity to accommodate up to fifty people engaging in a range of activities: creative arts such as painting, candle-making, wood working, ceramics; life-skills training; employment and volunteer-readiness training; cooking; contract employment; socializing; community gatherings and recreation.
The second consists of the Vanier Suites: four 1-bedroom units (each 528 s.f.); one 2-bedroom unit (730 s.f.) and a studio unit (425 s.f.) for individuals who are developmentally disabled but can live semi-independently, as well as a common meeting space for social and recreational activities.
The total area of the facility is 8,192 s.f. This is a multi-purpose facility in a residential area, close to the downtown core.
The new Vanier Suites, with the continued operation of Jubilee House, bring our total residential capacity to 17 people.
The I Belong! Campaign, 2014-2017
In order to move forward with construction, the I Belong! Campaign objective was launched in spring of 2014. The goal was to raise $800,000 through donations of direct financial support and gifts in kind. This would allow us to break ground in early 2015. Due to the exceptional generosity of our community, we were actually able to raise $1 million!
The total project cost, including the cost of the land, landscaping, furniture and equipment, was estimated at $1.45 million. After reaching our campaign objective, the balance would be covered through a mortgage, funded by the income from the apartments and the Centre’s activities.
Across Canada, governments attempt to provide housing, nutrition and meaningful activity for persons with developmental disabilities. In BC, Community Living BC (CLBC) provides funding for the physical, health and security needs of the people with developmental disabilities in the L’Arche Comox Valley home.
However, the additional programs that we provide for these residents, and the Outreach Centre, which benefits those living in the great community, receive no government funds. We rely on private contributions for many of the things we do.
By exceeding our Campaign objective, through the generous support of our community, more resources will be available to meets the needs of those with developmental disabilities in our community.
Honourary Chair : Murray Presley
Campaign Co-Chair: Dr. Paul Helpard
Campaign Co-Chair: Robert Mulrooney
How You Can Contribute to the I Belong Centre
As our programs expand and grow, we welcome donations to the I Belong Centre. There are several ways that you can help:
A pledged contribution may begin at any time that is convenient to you. Contributions may be made by cash, cheque, credit card, or pre-authorized debit to your bank account. All gifts are tax deductible in accordance with Canada Revenue guidelines. One-time gifts are valued, but gifts made over two or even three years provide maximum financial advantage and may be easier for you, the donor.
There are also Naming and Recognition opportunities. Memorial or Commemorative Gifts can be made as a tribute to a family member, a friend, or your organization. A list of these gift and naming opportunities is available, upon request. A gift of securities/stocks is also an effective and attractive way to make a gift, offering tax benefits to the donor. You will receive a receipt for tax purposes at year-end.
Your contribution will be received with gratitude, and used to support the I Belong Centre and its programs. Working together, we can build this important community asset. Your generous support will make a difference for many years to come in the lives of men and women in our region who have developmental disabilities.