Last Saturday, January 25th, 25 community members with and without intellectual disabilities gathered to tell the story of L’Arche Portland. Some people, such as Dorothy Coughlin, Paul Lipscomb, and Rob Hoisington have been with us since day one. Others, such as the founding members of Gabriel house, are new to our story, and will shape the future of L’Arche Portland. We started the day with prayers led by Paul Wood and Nick Krautsheid, then the storytelling began:
“Have you ever had something you think about, can’t wait for, and your heart longs for it?” Paul shared that this feeling and longing for faith, community, and mutuality for adults with intellectual disabilities fueled himself and Dorothy to begin dreaming of what would become L’Arche Portland.
Paul and Dorothy began hosting meetings in a church to create a vision for the community and homes. Rob Hoisington, Erin Weisensee, and Matt Weisensee joined soon after. They were asked to imagine exactly what they wanted the homes to look, feel, and smell like. A vision of fresh bread and homemade soup was born.
They had built a community and it was time to open a home. Rob and Pat would be the first to say “yes” to living in the first L’Arche Portland home, a small apartment on Powell Blvd. Rob didn’t know exactly what to expect, and shared that he felt happiness, excitement, and fear. Who would get to use the bathroom first thing in the morning? The vision and beliefs of our founding, reflection, meditation, prayer, listening, and sharing 100%s were all things that helped and guided Rob during his six years living in community.
Brendan, one of the founding members of Gabriel House, agreed that before moving in December of 2019 in he was a little nervous. After two months living in community with his five housemates, he now feels confident.
Nehalem House was the first L’Arche Portland home and opened in 1987. Shortly after, Patty Mac joined as a live-in assistant. During a discernment visit, a huge hug from her potential housemate Joni showed her that she “knew [she] was where [she] needed to be and [she] was so scared.” Most of all, she was “hungry for a place where [she] could be [herself]” and L’Arche Portland was a place where she could find that acceptance.
Our story is full of asks, calls, and responses. When it came time to search for a new community leader, Rob knew that Susan Mitchell was the person for the job. Susan was still in discernment, but Rob let Susan know his 100%, sharing “we want you!” Susan still wasn’t sure, but a few days later she heard a voice in her dreams. The voice said “we want you!” Susan would become our next community leader. Marilyn has also shared that “L’Arche Portland is a place where they want you,” and it’s true.
We have come a long way since people moved into that first apartment in 1986. Neahkahnie House opened in 1995, just under a mile away from Nehalem House. We opened Gabriel house in November 2019 and welcomed six founding members.
We ended our day of storytelling by sharing a meal of bread and soup made by Gabriel House. The original vision of those who founded our community lives on today, and grows along with our community and impact. The process of uncertainty, discernment, faith, and hope is fundamental to our story, has been alive since day one, and lives on every time someone joins us in community. We have all made a special and intentional choice to say “yes” to community, diving into the unknown with faith and bravery. Many things will change with time, but our values are the threads that hold our community and our story together.