Charity Issue: We are family


Audrey Turley

L’Arche St. Louis provides care and assisstance to people with intellectual disabilities.

L’Arche celebrates their annual Christmas party by singing Christmas carols. (Photo courtesy of L’Arche St. Louis)


Like many family homes in St. Louis, the people living in Joyful House enjoy spending time together cooking and sharing meals, watching movies or relaxing. But unlike many family homes in St. Louis, the family living in Joyful House is composed of several people with disabilities and assistants that help them go through their daily lives. 

Joyful House is one of three residential homes operated by L’Arche, which is an international organization with a community in St. Louis that provides assistance to people with intellectual disabilities.

“Our overarching goal is to [create] an experience with people with intellectual disabilities that sees them as full, contributing members of society,” Paula Kilcoyne, a community leader at L’Arche, said. “They’re our friends, neighbors, family members, and they deserve full lives just as much as we do.”

L’Arche aims to achieve this goal in three ways: hosting outreach programs for students, providing in-home care for people with disabilities and through residential homes, which allow people to receive round-the-clock care from assistants while living in a family-style environment. Kristina Roselle lived in and worked as an assistant at the Joyful House, one of L’Arche’s three residential homes in St. Louis.

“I first got involved with L’Arche after college when I was looking for post-grad volunteer programs, but I fell in love with it and ended up [staying],” Roselle said. “There’s something about being gathered around a central mission [that] I don’t [think] exists in other organizations. [L’Arche’s] mission [of] living in community and promoting people’s wellbeing felt very tangible.”

People with disabilities who live full-time in L’Arche’s residential homes are known as ‘core- members.’ The live-in assistants’ goal is to help the core-members do their daily routines with as much independence as possible. 

Live-in assisstants spend time outside with J, a core-member at Joyful House (Photo courtesy of L’Arche St. Louis).

“You wake up with [the core members], eat breakfast together, relax together, and help them with whatever daily activities they need support with, while promoting their independence throughout the process,” Roselle said. “At the end of the day, we share a meal and eat together, which is one of the central elements of the community [at L’Arche].”

L’Arche assists its core members in achieving a level of independence that many of them have not experienced before. Melissa Leibbrandt’s younger sister Amy Barmann, who has Down Syndrome, is a core-member at L’Arche’s Joyful House. Leibbrandt is grateful for the opportunities L’Arche has brought to her family. 

“Within three months [of Amy moving into L’Arche], she had an art gallery opening and threw out the first pitch at a [Cardinals game],” Leibbrandt said. “They found her [artistic] talent through focusing on her as an individual. L’Arche gave her her life back.”

“L’Arche gave her her life back.

— Melissa Leibbrandt

Barmann was the first core-member to move into the Joyful House in March 2016. She enjoys the community at Joyful House and the activities she does with assistants and the other-core members. 

“[My favorite part about L’Arche] is my friends,” Barmann said. “We have house meetings and make dinner together. On Tuesdays we have a pool party and on Fridays we have a karaoke party and make hot chocolate.”

L’Arche’s main mission is to provide care to people with disabilities. However, the thing that is often most meaningful to many people involved with the organization are the relationships and sense of community that are formed through L’Arche’s unique style of providing care. 

“The friendships are what has kept me in L’Arche for so long,” Roselle said. “Building relationships with core-members and other assistants is [really special].”

If you are interested in donating to L’Arche or getting involved with one of its programs, please visit their website at