The Vanier model for living with the disabled takes root
During the evening prayer service at a new residential complex in Fayetteville, N.C., young people took turns reading from the Gospel of Luke, reciting a psalm and singing some prayers.
They paid no mind as one woman tripped over some words in the liturgy. They congratulated another person who, at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, blurted out, “What does ‘amen’ mean?”
“Good question!” some exclaimed in unison.
Such moments are common at the weekly service here, where a mix of graduate students and a handful of adults with developmental disabilities share living quarters.
Friendship House, as they call their co-housing space, is in many ways an outgrowth of the thinking of Jean Vanier, the Catholic theologian and humanitarian who died in May and who changed the way many Christians view disability. Vanier tore down the separation between the able and disabled and between those helping and those being helped with his signature creation, L’Arche, a worldwide network of homes where people with and without disabilities live and work as peers.
The Fayetteville Friendship House is meant to attract people studying for careers in health care. The house is the brainchild of Scott Cameron, a physician, who realized he needed to change his own attitude about some of the diagnoses he delivers to parents of babies he cares for at a neonatal intensive care unit. With Friendship House, he hopes to share that insight with a larger group of health care students.
“I think it will help them change the way they view disabilities,” he said, “not as something that is broken, but something that can be celebrated.”