Serve Well Blog

7.8.13

Growing People, Growing Plants
by Amanda Brown, 2012 Krista Colleague

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

The tag line "Growing People, Growing Plants" of L'Arche, where I served this past year as a Jesuit Volunteer, became my personal mantra for the year. The organization, L'Arche Farm and Gardens, puts people and relationships first and everything else second. The farm, a community-supported, group employment program for adults with developmental disabilities,strives to build "inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together." In French L'Arche translates to "the ark" and was founded by Jean Vanier in 1964 in France.

Our community in Tacoma has four houses and a farm. Each house has three to five core members along with several live-in assistants. The farm employs eight adults with disabilities, two full time staff, two full time AmeriCorps members (one Lutheran volunteer and one Jesuit volunteer), and hundreds of community volunteers. The adults with disabilities are referred to as "core members" because they are at the heart and core of everything we do. Every day on the farm is unique - especially as seasons change - but every day starts with Morning Prayer and a meeting. At the meeting we take turns sharing about our lives - both the exciting and difficult. Then, we review responsibilities and get to work weeding, harvesting, transplanting, or cleaning the greenhouses.

I experienced many poignant moments while at the farm. These specific moments were times when I saw the mission of L'Arche at work. Our mission statement reads, "Mutual relationships and trust in God are at the heart of our journey together. We celebrate the unique value of every person and recognize our need of one another." The journey together in mutual relationships is a principle I will carry from the farm for the rest of my life. I learned that I am not here to help someone who is perceived as "weaker" or "less able". I am merely here to join them on their journey for a short time. During our journey we build relationships and may both be transformed. Although I can't talk on behalf of the core members, I have enjoyed personal transformation in many beautiful ways.

Debbie is a core member who was a catalyst in my transformation. She is tiny in stature, soft spoken, and deeply spiritual. Every morning without fail she had a prayer request to share and enjoyed leading the farm in prayer. Debbie is a self-proclaimed veteran of the farm with 20 years of service behind her. Recently, a group of high school students came to work on the farm to volunteer for a week. After lunch, we all said goodbye and returned to the fields to weed around the tomatoes and garlic. I walked past Debbie and noticed her eyes were red and watery. I asked, "What's wrong?" because I was surprised to see her crying. She looked at me and said, "I am gonna miss those guys." I was struck by how fully and deeply Debbie was able to embrace these students who were only with us for a few days. She taught me that although it may hurt when the time comes to say goodbye, I am only fully living with times of both great sorrow and joy. Core members, like Debbie, have taught me to embrace people that come into my life even if for a short amount of time. It reminds me to live in the present, find joy in the simple, and unapologetically show my emotions by being with the core members.

This is where I see the intersections of L'Arche and the Krista Foundation. Many of the service ethics in "Staying for Tea" - an article by Aaron Ausland that Krista Colleagues are well acquainted with as part of our pre-service education - resonate with me. Ausland writes, "After some time, I realized something else was happening over tea. My title and position were being eroded, I was becoming real to them...My simplistic stereotypes of them were melting away; they were becoming real to me...They ceased to be poor and helpless people in need of assistance..." Instead of seeing Debbie as an older woman with an intellectual disability or seeing Zach, another core member, as a young man with a certain syndrome I simply see them as my friends, Zach and Debbie.


Similar to how Ausland writes about "checking our filters" Jean Vanier speaks to some of the same ideas. "The secret of L'Arche is relationship, meeting people, not through filters of certitudes, ideologies, idealism, or judgements, but heart to heart, listening to people with their pain, their joy, their hope, their history, listening to their heart beats." Ausland's service ethics were developed over "staying for tea", mine were over staying to pull weeds; but we both developed ethics through service.

I cherish the Krista Foundation for affirming and supporting my process of realizations. More than anything, an individual engaged in service and post-service needs a community to understand why they spent a year, two, or more in service. It is often difficult to find people who understand the motivation for pursuing service - away from the comfort zone of family and friends. Some people smile, nod, or just change the subject. Others enthusiastically thank a volunteer for being such a good person, "...because I couldn't do that...", or ask when I plan to join the "real world." The "real world", as others term it, is intimidating and a transition that is approaching much too quickly." I am unsure where my post-service journey will lead; currently the plan is to pursue a graduate degree in nutrition. However, wherever the path may lead, I believe that the Krista Foundation will help me retain what I learned in service. The Krista Foundation's level of understanding and support is invaluable - I am beyond grateful for their accompaniment on my service journey and beyond.

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