In 1987, L’Arche Heartland began a journey where persons with and without intellectual disabilities began sharing their life in community and became a member of the International Federation of L’Arche. As we continue to trust God in our journey, our mission is to:

Make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities, revealed through mutually transforming relationships.

Foster an environment in community that responds to the changing needs of our members, while being faithful to the core values of our founding story.

Engage in our diverse cultures, working together toward a more human society.

L'Arche Heartland focuses on relationships and recognizes that every individual regardless of his or her ability has a gift to share with our world.  Through sharing daily life, we strive to discover and share these gifts with the broader community of Johnson County.  We gather regularly as a community to foster relationship with one another as we create a place of belonging for people of all abilities.

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Our Programs

Homes – L’Arche Heartland shares daily life across five homes with sixteen core members (adults with intellectual disabilities).  Core members share these homes with assistants (men and woman without intellectual disabilities who choose to share a season of their lives living in mutual relationships with core members).  Core members and assistants all contribute to the rhythm and life of the home, planning menus together, shopping, preparing meals, completing household responsibilities, as well as leisure activities.  Our houses are vibrant places full of laughter, music, and prayer.             

Academy— In 2008, L’Arche Heartland branched into providing day service supports by opening L’Arche Academy.  Core members and assistants gather five days a week to pursue activities focused on creative expression.  Each core member can choose individual interests that he/she would like to more fully develop.  Examples of activities include: visual arts, music, journaling, story writing, reading skills, math skills, foreign language, puzzles, and games.

Green Express Studio— With a desire to diversify our day service supports as well as increase our presence in the local area, the Green Express Studio became a part of L’Arche Heartland in 2015.  Across our two day service options we create meaningful daytime activity for thirty core members.  Green Express Studio teaches employment skills, life skills, and cares for the environment as we form relationships across abilities.  We are currently creating partnerships with other businesses in Johnson County for core members to collect the businesses’ aluminum, plastic, and paper recycling.  We have a location where these recycled materials are then taken, sorted, and prepared for the recycling center.  All revenue generated from the recycling program is shared among the participants who choose this activity.  Other activities we participate in are volunteerism through various organizations (meals on wheels, animal shelters, community centers, food banks) as well as providing social and leisure activities on a regular basis. 

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Heartland History

In 1983 Dr. George Harris wrote a letter to L’Arche Daybreak asking for more information about L’Arche.  His letter was forwarded to Sr. Christella Buser in Winnipeg, Canada.  Christella, a native Kansan, returned to her home state in late 1983 after being commissioned by L’Arche International to begin the establishment of L’Arche in the Kansas City area. 

In July of 1984 the first board of directors meeting was held.  Founding board members included; Dr. George Harris, Linda Sinclair, Dr. Rod Turnbull III, Mark Henke, Ed White, and Norma Schlick, CSJ.

In 1984-85 the group began looking for a home to begin L’Arche.  Christella was given an anonymous donation to purchase the home.  Several attempts to purchase a home were blocked by city councils citing disrupted parking and depreciation of home values.
 “In 1984, Christella Buser and her Board were ready to buy a house and begin a new community.  They had chosen the neighborhood and explained their project to some of the neighbors.  But when they presented it to the Municipal Council it was rejected:  other neighbors had protested; they did not want people with mental handicaps in their neighborhood.  And they won!  The Board and the neighbors went through the same scenario three more times.  Then Christella organized a whole network of friends who sent letters and telegrams to the Municipal Council; she and Board members made personal visits to senators.  Finally, in 1986, they were able to change the zoning laws and buy a duplex in Overland Park, Kansas.  We are still very far from being a world that welcomes people with handicaps.”  (from An Ark for the Poor, by Jean Vanier)

In 1985 Jean Vanier led a Faith & Light Retreat at Rockhurst College and spoke at Washburn University in Topeka.  April 1, 1987 L’Arche Heartland welcomed their first core members.  The welcoming team was composed of Sr. Christella and Virginia Pearl, CSJ.  In June they were joined by Lisa Wagner and in July by Sr. Lucy Walter.  The first community night was held January 12, 1988, a tradition which continues to this day.

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Federation of L’Arche

L’Arche began August 4, 1964 when Jean Vanier welcomed two men with disabilities into his home in Trosly-Breuil, France.  A Dominican, Father Thomas Philippe, introduced Jean to the world of persons with disabilities.  He was a chaplain of the Val Fleuri, a small institution for men with disabilities in Trosly.  Jean visited his friend and sensed in the men a spiritual openness and their place in the heart of God.  Fr. Thomas suggested that Jean “start something” as there was a great need for homes and work programs.  After finishing the school year and with encouragement from Fr. Thomas, he bought a small home in Trosly and welcomed Raphael and Philippe on the feast day of St. Dominic-August 4th.  Jean discovered the gift of people with disabilities and that he wanted to make his home with them.  More people came, those with disabilities and those without and more homes were opened.

Many people visited and were captivated with the vision of L’Arche. Today the Federation of L’Arche is made up of 149 communities in 37 countries.  Jean says “L’Arche was not my project, it was God’s”.

Shortly after opening the house Jean asked Jacqueline d’Jhalluin to look in the Bible for names for the house…………she suggested about 100.  When Jean heard “L’Arche” (French for the ark) he knew without hesitation that was it.  He then realized the symbolism.  Noah’s ark was built on God’s command, the boat of salvation. It symbolizes diversity, refuge, and hope.  The ark reminds us of the first covenant between God and humanity.  It was and is a beautiful name. 

Learn more about L’Arche International, L’Arche USA, and Jean Vanier.

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Our License

L’Arche Heartland is a 501-c3 non-profit organization, registered in the State of Kansas, governed by a local volunteer Board of Directors.  We hold a state license from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) to provide Home and Community Based Residential and Day Service Supports for Adults with Intellectual / Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).  We also hold an affiliation with the Johnson County Developmental Disability Organization (CDDO).  L’Arche Heartland is a member community of the International Federation of L’Arche and responds to authority on many different levels: The City of Overland Park, Johnson County, State of Kansas, and L’Arche USA.

View our KDADS License

View our 501(c)(3) certificate

View our 2018 Annual Report2017 Annual Report

View our Current 990

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Community Leader | Executive Director: Jamie Henderson 

Jamie joined L'Arche Heartland in September of 2018 after a 31 year career with the Missouri Department of Mental Health/ Division of Developmental Disabilities. Jamie has both administrative and clinical experience within the Developmental Disabilities community. 


Community CoordinatorClara Carpenter 

Clara served as a live-in assistant from 2015-2017 after completing her Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington.  After two years of service to our community she was chosen to become a Community Coordinator in October of 2017.  


Community Coordinator: Richard Warwick 

Richard joined the leadership team in February 2019 after serving as a Day Service Assistant at L’Arche Academy. He has experience with private sector businesses and is a member of civic organizations. Richard generously volunteers his time at Children’s Mercy Hospital. 


Day Service Coordinator: Kathy Newham 

Kathy became a part of the LArche Heartland community in 1996 when she was selected to be Community Leader / Executive Director.  When she arrived the community was comprised of one house and an apartment and shared life with only 6 core members.  Over her nearly 20 years of service as the Community Leader we grew  

into where we are today.  After stepping out of the role of Community Leader she returned to community life to serve as our first Day Service Coordinator in 2016.  


Administrative Coordinator: Shanna McIntyre 

Shanna joined L’Arche at the beginning of 2019 after having worked with people with developmental disabilities for seventeen years.  She brings experience with office management, direct care services and case-management.   


L'arche Heartland Board of Directors 

Johanna Telke, President  

Attorney, Immigration Services Officer, 

Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 


Sue Melena, Secretary 

Special Education, Center School District 


Kurt Roberts, Treasurer 

Executive Director, Career Coach Program, Kansas State University 

          Douglas C. Bittel, 

Course Director, Adjunct Associate Professor of Biosciences 

Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences  


Sarah Diehl-Miller  

Global Director of Sales Operations, HighQ 


Dr. George Harris Ph.D. 

Psychologist in private practice 


Tim Piatchek J.D. 

Immigration Services Officer, Homeland Security 


Kathleen Hanlon Ph.D. 

Curriculum & Public Policy, Retired 


Martha Fleming 

Targeted Case Manager, Retired 


Burton Haney 

Regional Account Manager, Ansell Healthcare 




Current Mandate

Over the past five years, Heartland has seen significant growth: two new homes, five new core members in the homes, an expanded Academy, and the addition of a new community coordinator. As we give thanks for the growth in our members and resources, we also are mindful of the challenge to grow in the way we live L'Arche's mission each day.

In the next five years, we hope this mandate will allow us to live our mission more fully by naming the following priorities:  fostering our environment, focusing on mutual relationships, developing formation for all, and increasing integration in our city.

Fostering our Environment

L'Arche Heartland is dedicated to fostering an environment where everyone feels accepted, loved, and safe to express their needs. As we share daily life together, we hope to attend to these needs whenever possible by

  • Cultivating an atmosphere of trust among and towards leadership.
  • Providing opportunities for everyone to share their opinions, needs, and hopes.
  • Being open to new ideas and structures of living in community.
  • Honoring each person and the relationships that are meaningful to them.
  • Remembering our identity as a community that trusts God.
  • Maintaining responsible stewardship of resources to support the community’s mission

Mutual Relationships

We believe that togetherness is the key for understanding mutual relationships. Togetherness takes time, a readiness to celebrate each other’s gifts, and a commitment to caring for one another. To strengthen mutual relationships, we seek to
  • Foster more one-to-one and across-our-homes interactions, with a mind to simple activities, games, and common interests.
  • Learn and practice communication skills to help us heal conflicts and navigate daily life.
  • Balance our use of technology and media to bring us together more meaningfully.


Formation shapes the growth of one’s character in the context of mutual relationship, nurtured by spirituality, with attention to L’Arche’s roots.  Formation is for every person in L’Arche for the up building of the whole community. To grow in compassion, responsibility, and joy, we affirm that
  • Praying together is a means of grace, necessary for the growth we desire.
  • Each meeting presents an opportunity to practice formation.
  • Regular individual evaluations support our growth
  • Regular community accompaniment helps us to live out the mission of      L’Arche each day.
  • Fostering long-term commitments among assistants builds leadership within the     community.


As members of Greater Kansas City, we desire to be better neighbors and grow our presence. As we develop our relationships, we want to find ways to share our story and draw others into it. We want to announce that we all have a place in the human community and gifts to offer. As we partner with others who also believe this, we commit to
  • Seeking opportunities to exercise our gifts in the broader community.
  • Developing mutual relationships with other faith groups in the city.
  • Continue developing our community’s capacities by growing our board and diversifying our revenue sources. 
  • Strengthening our bonds within the International Federation of L’Arche, in a spirit of solidarity.
  • Finding ways to announce L’Arche and inviting people to participate in our mission.

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When I first moved to L’Arche Heartland, I had a pretty good idea that it wouldn’t be “just a job.” I knew that by virtue of living in the same house with the people I would be caring for that there would be little separation between what I considered my “work life” and “home life.” And that was true. Even when I was on my time away, with no work responsibilities, I still would see my housemates every day, and they’d have questions to ask or stories to tell. There would still be activities I’d participate in or meals to share. Just because I was “off” from work didn’t mean I was off from the relationships.

I think that I was pretty prepared for that. I had an idea that’s how life would be when I moved in. But what I wasn’t prepared for was just how important those relationships would become. I can’t really pinpoint an exact moment, but there was definitely a shift when I stopped doing it because I felt like I needed to, or didn’t have anything else to do, and started spending time with core members during my time away because I valued their friendship, and I wanted to spend time with them. Sunday lunches and trips to the library became a regular activity with a couple of the guys, even when I wasn’t working, and even after I moved to a different house, because I enjoyed being with them. Even now, as a Community Coordinator, when I have a more typical 9-5 work schedule, I will often participate in our Saturday activities, or spend time with core members outside of that schedule, because I value our time together and they have become important to me. They aren’t just people that I care for, or whose house I now coordinate, but they are my friends. It wasn’t something I was expecting when I first came to L’Arche Heartland, but it’s definitely something I love about my life in L’Arche.

-Mark Lepper, Community Coordinator