This past week, five St. Norbert women spent their spring break serving through the TRIPS alternative break program with the L’Arche community in Clinton, Iowa. L’Arche is a Christian community of people with developmental disabilities and those who share life with them. Their mission is to create a welcoming environment, to appreciate the unique gifts of each person and to respond to each individual’s needs. The L’Arche trip, known as “The Arch”, was led by St. Norbert senior, Kendra Wauters. Below is a reflection of their time in Iowa.
By Kendra Wauters ‘14, Trip Leader
Megan Duff, Nicole Zellner, Autumn Maas-Everard, Rachel Taubel, and I spent our spring break at L’Arche in Clinton, Iowa. Unlike other trips through the TRIPS program, this service trip did not include building something tangible, or changing the lives of the people we were working with in a profound way. Rather, we were the ones who walked away from the experience with a new found love for the people we served, and a greater understanding of the worth of each human being, regardless of ability.
Throughout the week, we cleaned, organized, or did some other type of service in the morning. In the afternoon we had a break to rest or explore the small – but sprawling – town of Clinton. The evening is when we were given the chance to share life with the core members, or the people with disabilities, and the assistants who work in the homes as caretakers and friends. They welcomed us into their homes as if they’d known us forever. Each day we formed new friendships and after only a few short hours in each home (there were three: Arch I, Arch II, Arch IV) we were welcomed into the L’Arche family.
L’Arche, as their mission states, aims to appreciate the unique gifts of each person and to respond to each one’s needs, and that is exactly what they do! While I was preparing dinner at Arch II the first evening, I was nervous about the food that would be served. I don’t eat meat and also extremely dislike tomatoes. I was nervous to speak up about my pickiness when it comes to food. After I spoke up to the assistant cooking dinner that evening, he assured me that it was no big deal to make my meal without meat and tomato sauce – in fact almost everyone at the table was eating something slightly different. One man couldn’t eat the meat and had a different type of noodle, two others were allergic to something in the sauce, and everything had to be chopped extremely small in order to accommodate one man with no teeth. It was the oddest family dinner I’ve ever been a part of – and it was wonderful. It truly exemplified respecting the dignity and preferences of everyone around the table, even if they were unable to speak up for themselves. Thinking back, it doesn’t matter what food is served, but rather that everyone gathered around the table is sharing life together, and building friendships that last forever.
I could go on for days about the people I met, and the special moments I shared with each of the 18 core members, but for now I would like to leave you with the Arch Table Prayer that is said before dinner in each of the homes: “O, Heavenly Father, we do pray, that you will bless this food today. Bless this family gathered here, and everyone who we hold dear.” Amen.