The story of L’Arche in the Comox Valley began over twenty-five years ago, with Lock Mawhinney and his wife, Joanne. A well-known educator, principal and pioneer in Special Needs education, Lock realized that efforts to give people with developmental disabilities access to education was only a partial solution. After they left school, they were isolated, lacking any meaningful relationships outside their families – part of the reason he and Joanne had become foster parents.
Lock and Joanne began to look for other options and the model of L’Arche came to their attention. They were inspired by L’arche’s unique vision of community inclusion and the way they saw people’s lives enriched by belonging. Other like-minded individuals joined them, and in 1993, the Friends of L’Arche Comox Valley was registered as a non-profit society.
In 2000, the Friends of L’Arche Comox Valley opened Jubilee House, a home for four core members and the assistants who lived with them, and were – finally! – officially recognized as a L’Arche community.
In 2006, L’Arche CV opened an Outreach and Creative Arts Centre in an attempt to reach out to the wider community. The success of this Centre and its outreach drew attention to the need in the disability community for safe and affordable housing. In 2012, L’Arche CV launched its I Belong! campaign with the goal of raising sufficient funds to build a multi-use facility. The vision was for a community hub that would house the Outreach Center, the administrative offices of L’Arche CV, and seven apartments for adults with disabilities who were able to live independently with some supports.
In 2017, the I Belong Centre opened its doors to the Comox Valley community, and six adults with developmental disabilities took possession of their own apartments in the building. The Outreach Centre moved their creative arts program into bright, new studios, and the L’Arche community was able to gather in a spacious multi-purpose room with an adjoining kitchen.
In 2019, L’Arche CV purchased another nearby property with the aim of building more housing, replicating the success of the seven suites in the I Belong Centre.