L'Arche community hub being set up in Fredericton

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People with intellectual disabilities will have a new hub in Fredericton, where they can meet with friends, caregivers and the broader community, by the end of 2018, if a new project by the Willow Tree Community comes to fruition.

“I think that people with intellectual disabilities have remarkable gifts,” says Dr. Erica Frecker, one of the people spearheading the effort to establish a local L’Arche community.

“It’s an amazing and varied group of people and I think it often gets missed and because of some of their social limitations, I think the wider community sometimes doesn’t get to know them. And I think through including them beyond that school time that we could really make Fredericton a better place to live for everyone.”

L’Arche homes traditionally house a few people who have disabilities and a few people who don’t. But Frecker says in recent years, the organization has expanded to other models and there’s a trend toward more independent living facilities.

The Willow Tree community hub planned for Fredericton will include space for one or two people to live independently, a large gathering space and a few offices.

dr-erica-frecker L'Arche community hub being set up in Fredericton

Frecker says the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities are often overlooked by the wider community because of isolation. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

“So we would hope to provide opportunities for networking for caregivers who are spending two or three hours with an individual that aren’t sure where to go. We hope to have activities that are fun for everyone going on that anyone can drop in and participate in,” Frecker says.

Single mom Wendi Biberdorf says the new hub would be a great opportunity for her 27-year-old daughter Madelin Hik.

Needs ‘consistency’ in care

The two live together in Hanwell and get support from family members who live nearby, as well as a weekly outing with a caregiver from OPAL Family Services, paid for by the Department of Social Development.

Biberdorf is a nurse at the hospital but only works part time so she can provide the consistent care her daughter needs.

‘I want to be independent. I want to have a home some day. I’d like to live with other people. I want to have a pet in my Willow Tree home.’Madelin Hik

“It’s a struggle,” she says. “We’ve learned consistency leads to her being more independent and more fruitful in her life.”

Things are pretty laid back when the two are at home.

“She has a book player that she likes to listen to,” Biberdorf says.

“I like the book player,” Hik says.

“It plays specialized books that we get from the CNIB Library,” her mother adds. “You can move ahead chapters, slow the speaking down.”

“I need Mummy to do that,” Hik says. 

She also needs help with things like getting dressed, taking medication and preparing food.

Hik spends a lot of time on the treadmill, listening to Top 40 tunes and substituting her own lyrics.

“She’s very talented at it,” Biberdorf says.

She also likes to mimic bird calls and play practical jokes on her mother.

“I see your little grin when you run past a light switch and flick it off on me,” says Biberdorf.

wendi-biberdorf-and-madelin-hik L'Arche community hub being set up in Fredericton

Wendi Biberdorf and Madelin Hik are close, but they look forward to a time when Hik can move out on her own and still receive the support she needs. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

The pair have an obvious closeness. But both are looking forward to a time when Hik can move out on her own.

“I’m not going to be around forever,” Biberdorf says.

“I want to be independent,” Hik says. “I want to have a home some day. I’d like to live with other people. I want to have a pet in my Willow Tree home.”

Lots of interest

Based on a study of housing needs and preferences conducted by St. Thomas University researchers in 2017, with a grant from the Fredericton Community Foundation, Frecker estimated 100 people would be interested in that type of living arrangement.

They could then move out of parents’ homes or larger communal living arrangements and live relatively independently, but with the level of support they need, she says.

No location has been chosen for the Willow Tree project yet, but Frecker says the group is in early talks for two potential sites in the downtown area.

“It would have to be somewhere that’s accessible, and it would have to be somewhere that’s fairly large,” she says.

Frecker is asking anyone interested in getting involved to get in touch through the Willow Tree Community Facebook page.

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