L’Arche residents ride through life together

Jim Olson helps Trinity House resident Jennifer Bermingham learn how to use a recumbent bike in Mission Park on Saturday. Olson will be riding his own bike 200 miles to raise funds for two L’Arche Spokane adult family homes. (Colin Mulvany)

Jennifer Bermingham blossoms when she gets on a bicycle.

The developmentally disabled 39-year-old hadn’t ridden one for years because of physical limitations but was able to enjoy riding once again after getting on a specially fitted recumbent bike. Once she was on it, it was hard to get her off.

Bermingham was participating in a kickoff event Saturday for Jim Olson’s 200-mile bike ride to raise money for L’Arche Spokane, a nonprofit that operates two adult family homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities live together. The Trinity House and the Harvest House are in the Logan Neighborhood.

“It was magical watching, as she was able to experience that independent feeling of riding on her own,” Olson said. “It was amazing.”

The L’Arche community rode from the Trinity House to Mission Park for Olson’s kickoff. The bikes were provided by Gary Dagastine, of Northwest Recumbent Cycles.

The goal of the 200-mile ride is to not only raise money for L’Arche but to raise awareness and promote healthy living for everyone, regardless of age or perceived ability, Olson said. The bike rides got started to raise money to purchase YMCA passes for the L’Arche residents so they could stay fit.

His message apparently resonated with Bermingham.

“Where’s my bike?” she asked after a short break Saturday. “I need my exercise.”

Through his fundraising efforts, Olson has raised about $11,000 each of the last two years for L’Arche Spokane. All proceeds from his fundraiser go to the L’Arche community.

Olsen started teaching students with developmental disabilities in Spokane in 1968, and now, at 71 years old, he’s still going strong despite his Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s good medicine for me,” he said. “They are beautiful people. We have so much to learn from them.”

For L’Arche Spokane, Olson’s fundraising efforts are vital.

“State funding is going down,” said L’Arche Spokane Director Lura Southerland. “It doesn’t look like that’s going to improve anytime soon.”

L’Arche is a Christian nonprofit centered on healthy living, building relationships, and fostering acceptance of each individual regardless of their abilities or disabilities, Southerland said. It started in France in 1964 and has since spread to 140 communities in 36 countries. It was founded locally in 1976.

“It’s about sharing life together and realizing they have some disabilities and we also have huge disabilities,” Southerland said. “These guys are teachers in heart and spirit and hope.”

Each L’Arche Spokane house consists of six members with developmental disabilities and three assistants who live with them. The residents live together, eat together, pray together and play together, much like they did Saturday at the park.

“It really becomes their home,” she said. “They really become brothers and sisters.”

If you go

A dinner auction benefiting L’Arche Spokane will take place Oct. 13, 5:30 p.m., at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 505 W. St. Thomas More Way. Tickets are $40 per person or $300 per table of eight.

On the Web: www.larcheofspokane.org.

To make a donation or volunteer: (509) 483-0438.

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