Anyone who’s lived in Southwestern Alberta for an extended period of time has likely formed some opinion about the weather. Weather may influence living conditions in our area of Canada no more than anywhere else, but on some days it can be all we think about. Winters that abandon mountains of snow at our doorstep disappear gradually into warmer weather, bringing wind strong enough to rattle windows, topple streetlights, and give you a bad hair day. As calamitous as a good chinook might seem, though, it can be much easier to bear than the heat. Summers in Southwestern Alberta regularly deliver temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, which can be anything from utterly delightful to mildly inconvenient, depending on how much you like hot weather.
The heat’s downsides are magnified if you don’t have air conditioning. Until last year, one of the group homes run by the L’Arche Association of Lethbridge was among the many residences that had its climate dictated by seasonal factors. L’Arche runs a number of shared residences throughout Lethbridge, where individuals with developmental disabilities share a home with individuals without. The summer heat was making things in one of the homes in South Lethbridge quite uncomfortable for the people living there. “Residents were evacuating to the basement to sleep, just because it was too hot upstairs,” says Tim Wiebe, Executive Director of L’Arche Association of Lethbridge.
A $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation’s Community Priorities Fund in the spring of 2017, coupled with its fundraising efforts, enabled L’Arche to retrofit the older home with air conditioning. No longer did residents have to escape to the basement when the mercury rose. Cooler heads prevailed—literally—and L’Arche’s mission could continue in comfort.
Through its living facilities, L’Arche cultivates a sense of community, bringing together individuals with and without disabilities to share home life. This system, according to Wiebe, is an extension of the philosophy that prompted L’Arche founder Jean Vanier to invite two men with disabilities to live with him in his home in France in 1964, one that Wiebe says helps to keep disabled people visible. “Just because someone has been labelled or has a disability of some sort doesn’t mean they don’t have a gift to offer or something meaningful to give back to society,” says Wiebe.
The project was much more than just an exercise in home renovation for the organization. “An air conditioner may not be flashy, but it’s necessary,” says Wiebe. “The grant really helped make this house much more liveable.” L’Arche’s homes help people with disabilities learn to share their gifts with the world. “We each have something to contribute, and we’re all important in one way or another. Part of L’Arche’s mission is to build a more human society,” says Wiebe. A grand goal, Wiebe acknowledges, but not an unattainable one. “The way we do that is by helping people be more ‘human’—discovering their gifts and helping them to grow.”