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'They really connect': St. Louis organization helps people with disabilities find community

Jen struggled to help find support for her sister Amy, who has down syndrome. But then they found L'Arche and the Joyful House.

ST. LOUIS — Some homes are built with wood and steel, others are built with heart.

"This is Joyful House. This is the second home we opened six years ago," said Paula Kilcoyne, executive director of L'Arche St. Louis.

"L'Arche St. Louis is a network of homes here in the St. Louis area," she said. "For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities."

L'Arche is French for Ark, like Noah's Ark.

In this house, the residents with disabilities are called core members. They live side by side with able-bodied assistants and they're treated with respect and love.

Forty-four-year-old Amy Barmann was drawing a picture when we talked to her. Her true colors have come out ever since she moved into Joyful House six years ago but they almost never got the chance to shine.

Credit: KSDK
Jen (left) sits with Amy (right) at the Joyful House.

She was born with down syndrome and has many health challenges. And then the only life she ever knew was upended when both her parents passed away.

She moved in with her sister Jen and her family in St. Louis but it was a struggle to find the right support.

Credit: Jen Marcus
Amy with her sister Jen and her family.

"It was hard to find people to care for Amy while we would go to work," recalled Amy's sister Jen Marcus. "She has a seizure disorder and sometimes they would call and say she's had a seizure."

Months later, while driving her kids to school, she finally reached Paula Kilcoyne and L'Arche St. Louis.

"And I thought, I'm going to pull this car over and I'm just going to lay down for a minute and listen to this woman talk," remembered an emotional Marcus. "Because it was the first person in months and months and months that I felt was telling me we're here to help."

When Jen now counts her blessings, she counts L'Arche twice.

Core members and assistants are housemates, sharing day-to-day activities like chores, celebrations and cooking.

Credit: KSDK
Amy cooks in the Joyful House. Residents share day to day activities like chores, celebrations and cooking

"I cook every Thursday," said Amy. "We make chicken enchiladas!"

Her sister can't keep up with Amy's social calendar.

"It's karaoke night, it's ladies' night," Jen said with a laugh. "It's Tuesday and they're off to the cafe."

L'Arche is an international organization with three homes in the St. Louis area just like the one where Amy lives. The assistants are trained and paid but it appears the job is more passion than profession.

Credit: KSDK
Residents of L'Arche St. Louis' Joyful House dance in the kitchen.

"They really connect with the core members and value those relationships," said Kilcoyne.

Recognizing our need for one another regardless of ability.

"Being in this house brings me to a level of basic, core humanity," said Marcus.

L'Arche St. Louis, showing that caring is always accessible.

Do you know someone Making A Difference? Let Mike know by filling out the form below, or emailing him at mbush@ksdk.com.

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