S. Becky Holley: Serving the L'Arche Community

by Sister Mary Flick, CSJ

Sometimes what the dear neighbor most needs is mentoring and encouragement. At least, that is what Sister Becky Holley has found at the L’Arche community where she serves as home life leader in Mobile, Alabama. And sometimes the dear neighbors are not the adult residents with intellectual disabilities, but those who assist them in their daily living. Seeing the need, S. Becky applied for and received ministry assistance funding from the province to provide leadership training for these team coordinators.

Founded by Jean Vanier in France in 1964, L’Arche communities bear witness to the reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship. L’Arche nurtures the dignity of every human being by building inclusive communities of faith and friendship where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.

The grant and additional money enabled the L’Arche Leadership Team to invite guest speakers like Dan Ebener, author of Blessings for Leaders: Leadership Wisdom from the Beatitudes. “We had him two days. We could have used him for two weeks,” Becky said. Other presenters were Fr. Larry Gillick, SJ from Creighton University, Bob Sackel from L’Arche USA (Syracuse), and Raphael Amato, a long time L’Arche member and consultant from Ottawa, Canada.

Also, it offers L’Arche to offer ongoing training three times during the year for the Leadership Team, their team of 10 coordinators, as well as the pastoral team and nurse. Afternoon sessions during the training provide time for the invited speaker to meet with as many as team members possible and L’Arche accompaniers. “In between speakers,” S. Becky says, “we have formation on leadership twice a month for our coordinators.”

Because the team coordinators play an important role in the L’Arche community, they receive this training to live the mission and vision for L’Arche and to articulate and teach it to their team.  “While their pay is minimal and for some, they simply need a job, most stay for the mission!” S. Becky says. “With leadership training, our goal is to broaden their knowledge and help surface leadership skills they have within themselves.”

“There are a lot of skills that are necessary,” S. Becky says, “like asking the right question. If a team member is not paying attention to a core member, the coordinator needs skills to confront and motivate the team member to use his or her own initiative. Coordinators need to be clear and able to motivate with even simple requests, like, ‘Please, help Peggy fold the laundry,’ or ‘Why don’t you take Larry out for a walk.’”

Often, it is communication skills that are most needed. “Communication is really important,” S. Becky says. “We’d like to have our coordinators better communicate with team members, and help our coordinators achieve their goal by using the right language, and by invitation instead of being ‘the boss,’” she says. “It’s important because it really is a domino effect,” with the coordinators impacting the team as well as the core members (residents) and the spirit in the house.

“In the long run, this training will serve the core members,” she notes. “One of the speakers talked on leadership in relationship as the foundation for personal and professional success as well as on how to communicate what you are thinking so the other hears what you mean. We can’t assume people know what we are thinking.”

Often, one of the most difficult parts of the job is for a coordinator to conduct a 30 or 90-day review with team members. “We are trying to instill accountability in our coordinators on a monthly basis. Serving as a supervisor, they need to be able to talk with team members about what might possibly be making them late and how they can get to work on time, how to be with core members without a specific task, how to complete documentation necessary on all shifts or simply praising them for all they are doing right!”

S. Becky knows a thing or two about accountability herself. She has been on the L’Arche Mobile leadership team for two and a half years after being a team member in a house for three and a half years.  She summarizes the experience by saying, “It’s a blessing with tons of opportunities.”

She sees her work and this series of training flowing from the Sisters of St. Joseph spirit.
“As a CSJ, it’s all about bringing leadership potential out of people, through reflective listening,” she says. “We are seeing results. That is what motivates us.”

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