L'Arche at-a-Glance

L’Arche in Nova Scotia: Key Facts


What is L’Arche?

L’Arche is an international federation of faith-based communities creating homes and day programs with people who have developmental disabilities.


As a faith-based organization we believe 

  • that all people, whatever their gifts or their limitations, are bound together in a common humanity;

  • that a truly just and compassionate society can only be built upon a real commitment to welcome and to respect the most vulnerable in our midst;

  • that faith and spirituality are meaningless if they don’t inspire us to be open to people of differing intellectual capacity, social origin, religion and culture.



Jean Vanier's Photo

The Origins of L’Arche

L’Arche began in 1964 when Jean Vanier, the son of Canadian Governor General Georges P. Vanier, welcomed two men with disabilities into his home in the town of Trosly, France, northeast of Paris.  Together they called their home “L’Arche” in reference to “Noah’s Ark”, the biblical symbol of deliverance and of God's covenant with humanity.



Jean Vanier

Inspired by the Beatitudes of Jesus, which begin by proclaiming “Blessed are the poor...” (Matt. 5:1-12), Vanier was among the first in our age to see that there is something fundamentally unjust about locking people up in institutions. He believed, instead, that those the world would rather lock away have much to teach us and can even heal us if we give them the chance.
More information about Jean Vanier


The Mission of L’Arche

The basic mission of L’Arche is

  • To create homes where faithful relationships based on forgiveness and celebration are nurtured;
  • To reveal the unique value and vocation of each person
  • To change society by choosing to live relationships in community as a sign that hope and love are possible in our fragmented world.



L’Arche Around the World

Since its founding in 1964, L’Arche has grown to become a world-wide organization welcoming people from many different faith traditions, as well as people who have no formal affiliation with any particular faith tradition.  Today, there are over 120 communities in 30 countries on six continents, providing a home for thousands of persons with disabilities and their assistants.



L’Arche in Canada

As of June 2010, there were 137 L'Arche communities affiliated with the International Federation of L'Arche, 29 of which were in Canada, and four of which were in Nova Scotia.

L’Arche in Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, L’Arche has established communities in Antigonish, Cape Breton (Iron Mines, Mabou, and Orangedale), Halifax, and Wolfville.  Together, these communities operate:

  • 16 houses and 3 apartments, providing homes for 65 persons with intellectual disabilities and a comparable number of “live-in assistants”;
  • 7 day programs, providing meaningful and creative out-of-home daytime options not only for most of L’Arche’s residents, but for dozens of others as well.


What Makes L’Arche Unique?

  • Unlike many agencies, which operate according to certain medical or social service models of care for persons with disabilities, L’Arche has pioneered a “community model” based on the belief that human beings develop their abilities and talents most fully when given the opportunity to form mutual relationships of friendship with others.


  • Within this community model, therefore,

    • persons with disabilities are called “core members”, rather than “clients”. "patients", or “consumers”, and those who assist them are called “assistants”, rather than “staff” or "counselors";

    • relationships based on friendship are considered to be as important as professional relationships in promoting the personal growth of persons with disabilities;

    • assistants generally live in the homes with core members just as they would live with any family, and

    • everyone in the home—core members and assistants alike—is considered to be equally responsible for the life of the community.


  • Because of this unique structure, staffing levels at L’Arche tend to be lower than at other agencies, and the ratio of persons with disabilities to those who assist them is also relatively low (between 1:1 and 2:1, core members to assistants). 



Spirituality at L'Arche


As a non-denominational, non-sectarian organization, L'Arche is not officially affiliated with any particular religious tradition. There are people in L’Arche from many Christian traditions and a significant number from non-Christian traditions. There are also people in L’Arche who would say that they have no religious affiliation. Having said that, L’Arche communities are faith communities that generally reflect the religious traditions in the locale where communities are located. In Quebec, for example, most communities would be primarily Roman Catholic, as that reflects the population locally. In Toronto, there are people who belong to the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United Church, Muslim and Jewish traditions, reflecting the mosaic of the city. In India, some communities are primarily Hindu and Muslim. Assistants in many communities come from around the world with a whole spectrum of religious experience, and none.

L’Arche was founded in France in the Roman Catholic tradition, in the spirit of the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven…”). However, from the time of its second and third communities, in Canada and then India, L’Arche has embraced an interfaith dynamic. Assistants are welcomed without regard to their spiritual tradition, with the understanding that part of their role is to support core members in their spiritual life. This may mean saying grace at the table or accompanying people to church.

The ecumenical and interfaith identity of L’Arche is both rich and challenging. There are joys and struggles. Our choice is for welcome and diversity. As Jean Vanier has said, “I would rather have an assistant who doesn’t believe in God but does believe in people with disabilities than the other way around."



How is L’Arche Funded?

  • All L’Arche communities in Canada are registered as non-profit, charitable organizations and, as such, receive between 75 and 90% of their funding from provincial government sources. 


  • L’Arche relies upon government assistance to cover the daily cost of running its homes and programs. This support enables L’Arche to ensure the minimum standard of care to which our most vulnerable citizens are entitled. Over and above that, L’Arche communities themselves engage in various kinds of fundraising activities to cover the costs of participating in regional, national and international L’Arche events and structures. 


  • Thus, while government assistance enables L’Arche to ensure the minimum standard of care to which our most vulnerable citizens are entitled, L’Arche itself provides the financial and other resources that enable it to do so much more than simply meet the physical needs of those who live in its homes.


Training of Assistants

Because those who work for L’Arche as assistants usually begin with no formal training in the area of human care--though many have completed their undergraduate studies--L’Arche works hard to ensure that its Assistants are well trained to meet the "core competencies" that are required of those who work with people with disabilities.  In Nova Scotia, all new L’Arche assistants must complete a series of modules designed to ensure that they receive basic training in all the key areas of human care within six months of being hired.  These areas include:


  • First Aid/C.P.R.
  • Non-Violent Crisis Intervention
  • The Rules of Cooperation
  • Effective & Respectful Communication
  • Non-Violent Crisis Intervention
  • Positive Principles & Practices of Non-Aversive Behaviour Change
  • Fire & Life Safety
  • Medication Awareness
  • Introduction to Mental Illness
  • Understanding Human Sexuality
  • Individual Learning Plans


On top of this training, L'Arche also provides its assistants with training and formation in the following areas:


  • Mission & Identity of L’Arche;

  • the Charter of L’Arche; 

  • the Key Elements of L'Arche; 

  • History of L’Arche; Creating Home; 

  • the Therapy of L’Arche; 

  • Working with Families & Professionals; 

  • Aging; Health & Safety; 

  • Nutrition; 

  • Prayer & Celebrations; 

  • Traditions & Ecumenism; 

  • Personal Growth; 

  • Team Building; 

  • Group Dynamics; 

  • Expectation & Responsibility of Assistants; 

  • Self-Care, My Gifts & Personal Growth; 

  • Time Management; 

  • Conflict Management; 

  • Decision-Making; 

  • Accompaniment in L'Arche; 

  • Respectful Living & Language; 

  • Relationships, Affectivity & Sexuality


A Word About the Screening of Assistants
All prospective assistants in our communities must undergo a rigorous application process that includes a personal interview with the community leader, detailed reference checks, as well as a criminal background check. For the most part, L'Arche tends to attract university-educated individuals who have heard about us through family, friends or the media.  Many individuals also come to us having been inspired by the writings of Jean Vanier or Henri Nouwen


Once they arrive, assistants are considered to be on probation for six months, during which time their performance is evaluated at regular intervals.


To apply to be an assistant in L'Arche, click here.  



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