Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
Robyn Dowell cradles Moki, a beloved house pet at the L’Arche Neahkahnie House.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Clarice Keating
Robyn Dowell cradles Moki, a beloved house pet at the L’Arche Neahkahnie House.
Mornings at this house are just like any other home – a breakfast of oatmeal is shared and then everyone bustles about, gathering bags and coats to head out for the day. In the evening, dinner is eaten at a communal table, and afterward folks share about their days – what was good and what was hard – and end with prayer.

Birthdays are a big deal, and everyone is assigned his or her share of chores.
Though the residents at L’Arche Neahkahnie House aren’t blood relatives, they are a family just the same.

At the two houses in Southeast Portland, L’Arche creates and supports homes for people with developmental disabilities, where live-in caregivers and volunteers aim to create a safe environment of personal growth and development for all who live there. Unlike conventional group homes, caregivers and clients live as a family, creating a culture of equality.
“This is a place where people with different backgrounds can really grow and be transformed by their differences, rather than differences causing strife,” said Executive Director Holy Names Sister Susan Mitchell.

L’Arche extends its community outreach this month with a second annual benefit concert, featuring Julianne Johnson and Michael Allen Harrison. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Madeleine Parish at 3123 NE 24th Ave.

This year marks 25 years since L’Arche was founded in Portland. The organization is launching a Sign of Hope Campaign, with a goal to raise $250,000 per year for three years.  L’Arche Portland’s development and communications coordinator, Tamara Yates, hopes to expand the organization’s donor base with several goals in mind: establishing financial sustainability; raising employees’ salaries to a just and livable wage; and increasing service capacity.

Over the years, more than 90 assistants have shared their lives with the eight core members in the two homes.

The Portland L’Arche community belongs to an international federation, with 137 communities in 40 countries. L’Arche International was founded in 1964 in France.

On a recent day, residents sit in a circle in the Neahkahnie House’s cozy living room. Core member Cindy Leonard talks happily about the upcoming Bruce Springsteen show in Portland, which she plans to attend, as her cat Moki sleeps lazily on her lap.

Core member Ben Miller hoots with glee when conversation turns to the Wild Goose Fest in Benton County. He volunteered to go on the outing with Yates as part of the organization’s new speakers bureau. Core members often accompany the speakers so they do their part in advocating for the vulnerable.

In fact, service is a big part of core members’ lives. They make cards for residents at an assisted living and low-income housing center, and volunteer at the Brother Andre Café, providing hospitality to people who live on the streets.

New live-in caregiver Sara Dittmer talks about her five-year stint as a social worker. She loved her work, she said, but wanted to serve in an organization where she could connect with people in a more personal and faith-filled way.

As everyone chats, core member Robyn Dowell offers to show everyone her toes, and, out of the blue, and begins stripping off her shoes and socks.

“Our core members have the gifts of simplicity and spontaneity,” said Sister Susan, as the room filled with laughter. “They help us see the beauty in ordinary things - like feet.” 

Tickets to the benefit concert are $25 in advance and $30 at the door and can be purchased by logging on to or calling 503-251-6901.