The early days: Rob Hoisington and Dorothy with Patrick and Katie Coughlin
The founding of L’Arche Portland was set in motion in the summer of 1983 by a “last straw” telephone call. Dorothy Coughlin, at the Archdiocese of Portland, frequently received heart wrenching telephone calls and letters from families and friends of people with developmental disabilities. They asked her if there was any place for their loved one to live that would address their needs for spirituality, community, and belonging. What they wanted was not just a place to live, but a home.
Again and again Dorothy had said to these families that she didn’t know of anything in Portland that came close to what they were longing for. That summer, she reached the point where she knew she needed to take action. She went to her colleague and friend, Paul Lipscomb, and said, “I need to do something.”
Paul and Dorothy had both encountered L’Arche communities in different seasons of their lives, and hoped that someday Portland would have a community like L’Arche. They called together a “L’Arche Planning Group” in September of 1983, made up of people with and without developmental disabilities. The group met regularly for a couple of years – praying and getting to know each other through social gatherings as well as meetings. By the summer of 1986, Pat Dillon and Rob Hoisington expressed their interest in being the first live-in assistants, and Nehalem House began with a celebratory move-in day in late May of 1987. Five core members and two assistants shared life together initially.
Until 1990, Nehalem was not officially a L’Arche community, though the community embraced and lived L’Arche values. In November of 1990, after a visit from the zone coordinator, L’Arche welcomed Nehalem into the federation.
In the early 1990’s, momentum began to build for the community to grow and open a second home. An empty lot was found about a mile from Nehalem House, and the community worked with a skilled architect to design a home that would be especially suited to the community. Neahkahnie House was completed in 1995 and the opportunity to welcome four new core members generated great excitement and new life.