Eighty-year-old Jean Vanier spent over half his life doing humanitarian work for individuals with developmental disabilities. On Thursday, he's asking young adults between the ages of 18-35 to spend one evening listening to him speak about the lessons he learned in the span of his career and the message of peace and hope that can be taken from them.
Born in Canada, Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, an organization that helps create an atmosphere of acceptance and self-discovery for people with disabilities. It was founded in 1964 in Trosly, France--the town Vanier has resided in since his 30s. Since its inception, L'Arche has spread to over 36 countries and now runs 135 different communities that offer growth to both those in need and those running the homes.
Community leader and L'Arche Calgary executive director Peggy Loescher believes the organization benefits the volunteers and staff as much as those they are seeking to help because of the lessons learned from the experience.
"I think what we learn from them is that when we come to the end of our strength, we begin to discover each other and that we need each other," said Loescher. "We all have to face our own limitations in front of people and learn such things as patience and finding new ways of helping people do things when there are limitations."
Loescher also emphasized the need for dedicated individuals willing to help people with disabilities live an empowered life through the establishment and support of daily routines.
"The biggest challenge is to recognize that it's okay to need support and to have the support of others, to include them in society, and to show them that they have something to give," she said.
Vanier's speech will emphasize contributing to one's community to create a more positive environment for all involved. Keeping an eye to the future, Vanier hopes to draw on young adults' enthusiasm, altruism and desire to get more out of life. He will also promote a new line of educational materials called "Choosing Our Future" that feature him in conversation with high school students regarding sensitive issues like bullying, inclusion and living with diversity that youth face.
"Jean is very keen to speak with young people and to give them the message of hope," Loescher said. "He really believes that people are searching for meaning in their lives. That's the kind of thing he likes to talk about in reflecting on his own life."
Loescher encouraged students to attend the event, noting it may be Vanier's last visit to Calgary.