The residents of Winnipeg’s seven L’Arche Homes gathered at Dayspring House in late summer to participate in a unique celebration: each of the men and women was presented with a customized quilt made with fabric featuring personal preferences — animals, hobbies, interests and colours.
Before the quilts were presented four new assistants were welcomed — including two from Germany — young volunteers who would be staying indefinitely, while the residents of some homes took the opportunity to bid farewell to those assistants who were leaving, presenting them with cards and gifts.
Yusuke, a young man returning home to Japan after a year of working in House Chimo said, “I learned so much here! In particular, the importance of honesty and the warmth of being together.”
Mariia, from Ukraine, a young volunteer in Dayspring since April, is returning to her second year of nursing studies at Swan River College. “I will miss the love and acceptance,” she said.
Barb Pantel, recently retired homes co-ordinator of L’Arche explained the donated quilts project, and that the 26 quilts had been topstitched and quilted by Portage-area quilter Anna Maendel. As each name was announced, residents went up — with smiles, glowing faces, and even a few tears — to accept their quilt.
The concept of L’Arche Homes originates in the village of Trosly, France. In 1964, Jean Vanier, son of Georges P. Vanier, former Governor General of Canada, arranged for Raphael and Philippe, two mentally challenged men from a local institution, to join him in living and working together as brothers in a house he had bought in Trosly. A former naval officer, Vanier had also studied philosophy and theology. Later he wrote, “By the end of the summer a miracle had occurred.”
Vanier was not referring to the successfully renovated house, but to the bonding among them, the formation of a warm relationship where each was secure in the knowledge of the others’ acceptance and support. “We feel just as safe as the animals and Noah’s family in the ark,” the men told Vanier. “L’Arche” is French for “ark” and the name became permanent.
Today there is a network of 149 L’Arche communities in 37 countries — safe places for people with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers.
In early 2016, Manitoba Hutterite Colonies were told of a shipment of fabric at Lake Side Colony near Headingley, that had come from a Fabric Land store in Sask. that had to be cleared out due to smoke damage.
Browsing through the fabric, Anna Maendel was struck by the vast assortment of designs and themes. She even found a panel featuring a bright, eye-catching automobile — just what she needed to complete a quilt for Russel Thiessen, a longtime friend and resident of L’Arche Home “The Anchor.”
Remembering that Russel does not live alone, she extended the offer of a quilt to his housemates also and upon learning that there are six L’Arche Homes in Winnipeg, to those residents as well.
“It was my winter project,” she smiles, “which I would never have assumed, except for the unique opportunity of available fabric, and I could not have done it alone.”
Several quilts were pieced together by women from other colonies, Anita Warkentin of Winnipeg donated a towel for a tartan quilt requested by a resident and Serena Maendel of Fairholme appliquéd the Scottie dogs — truly a community effort.
What made that evening at Dayspring so unique was the decision of L’Arche leaders to give out the quilts at a special celebration with Anna Maendel present. “The joy and gratitude in residents’ faces while accepting their own unique quilt, made it a profoundly enriching experience: I was the recipient and they the givers.”
Dora Maendel writes from Fairholme Colony near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba