Master of Social Work (MSW)
Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work
The purpose of this research project was to qualitatively explore the experiences of live-out assistants in two L’Arche communities in order to better understand what these staff members perceived to be the benefits and challenges of community life in L’Arche. Live-out assistants support individuals with developmental disabilities in L’Arche communities, but do not live in a L’Arche home. This study incorporates theories related to the role of core values in uniting intentional communities and organizational change. Intentional communities face an ongoing challenge of adapting to internal and external changes, while retaining core values and a common purpose. An empowerment approach to change is suggested as one possible means for helping L’Arche communities address the challenges that participants in this study identified.
The incorporation of live-out staff in L’Arche represents an internal organizational change that requires L’Arche to respond to the needs of a new group of members. Since L’Arche is a network of intentional communities that are held together by strong core values, it is important to understand the ways that core values are influenced and experienced by live-out assistants. In addition, live-out assistants act as a bridge that connects L’Arche with the external environment. This connection may improve the organization’s ability to prepare for and respond to changes in the external environment as well as to influence that environment with its values.
The research design of this study reflected an interpretive narrative approach (McQueen & Zimmerman, 2006; Simpson & Barker, 2006) combined with some participatory methods (Stringer, 1996). Ten live-out assistants were interviewed and interviews were audio-taped, transcribed and analyzed. In addition, Official Documents of L’Arche were analyzed for themes related to the core values of the organization. Values identified in Official Documents were compared with interview data to see if and how participants were engaged in simultaneous processes of influencing, and being shaped by, organizational values. Furthermore, interview analysis also explored the role that live-out assistants played, or could play, in connecting L’Arche to the external environment.
Findings from this study suggest that L’Arche communities are successfully bringing live-out assistants into alignment with organizational values. Participants consistently shared experiences that illustrated core values being practiced in tangible ways and identified these experiences as increasing individual commitment and community unity. Still, there remain underlying questions that must be addressed regarding the relative value of live-out assistants compared to other community members and what their specific role in community is. In addition, live-out assistants may also be particularly well positioned to act as a bridge between L’Arche and the external environment, but L’Arche communities have not taken advantage of this potential link. While part of L’Arche’s mission is to work towards wider societal change related to equal rights and inclusion for people with disabilities, the priorities of live-out assistants remain inwardly focused on community life and resource needs. This focus limits the organization’s ability to promote change in wider society.
Elkins, Jennifer Christine, "Living Out: A Study Exploring the Experience of Live Out Assistants in L’Arche" (2008). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 863.