Just a few months before graduating from college, Chelsea came to the realization that she had very little interest in the marketing degree she had been pursuing for four years. So she set out to find purpose and meaning, and her quest led her to an unlikely place: living in community alongside people with developmental disabilities.
Honestly, if you had told me a year ago that my first job out of college would be as a live-in caregiver in a community for people with developmental disabilities, I would have been extremely shocked.
This was not the plan. I graduated with a degree in marketing. Almost throughout my entire undergrad experience, I had this grand plan that I would enter a small creative agency and live the Gen Z creative life that I always dreamed of. But life led me somewhere else.
When I try to explain to my family and friends what it is that I do for a living, they can’t seem to fully wrap their heads around the concept. I share life’s highs and lows with everyone in the community. Our time together is filled with simplicity, celebration, authenticity, and growth. My work as an assistant is so much more than I can begin to explain and has deeply shaped who I am. At L’Arche, I’m not just a caregiver. I am a housemate and friend.
L’Arche is an organization of about 150 communities around the world where adults with mental disabilities (known as core members) live with caregivers. This is not a group home, however. Caregivers and people who are disabled live together as equals, each with their own gifts to share.
I came to L’Arche after graduating in May, just two months after one of the lowest points in my life. My mental health imploded in the spring and one thing I gained from that struggle was clarity about what was important to me. At my lowest point, I realized I wasn’t at all passionate about my marketing degree. This realization sent me on a quest to find something that gave my life purpose and meaning. In the week before my graduation, I found L’Arche.
Pieces of the puzzle started sliding into place once I joined the L’Arche community. I wake up every day excited to see what the day holds. Whether it’s house chores or supporting core members with personal care, I’ve found fulfillment in what I do. My therapist intimately knows L’Arche, and part of my treatment plan is to be present with my housemates and core members. I’ve started to heal within the sacred spaces of personal care and mutual vulnerability.
Living where I work, and supporting core members in whatever way they need, is an honor — and it is also a struggle. I’ve discovered beauty in the brokenness I encounter in myself and others because it opens opportunities for love.
Core members are so much more than adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities — they are human beings who are loved by God, the same as you and me. They experience all of the emotions, struggles, and triumphs that we do. When I look into the eyes of core members, when we share laughs, and when we do yoga together in the living room, I feel our common human dignity being honored and uplifted.
It is difficult to look back on the person I was when I began my senior year. My heart was filled with greed and grief. But now, I know my hands are made to serve others. When I reached my lowest point, I received the gift of someone offering the gift of their compassionate presence. Now, I’ve found purpose in sharing that gift with others.
Chelsea currently serves as a live-in assistant with L’Arche Portland — here are photos of her with her community.