By Billy Shannon
The following is a short question-and-answer with Jacqueline Case, Executive Director of Raphael Village in New Orleans, a storied city in the southeastern U.S. Thank you to Jacqueline for finding the time to respond to these questions while in the midst of leading the re-opening of the Raphael Academy after Covid-led closures.
Can you describe Raphael Village’s origin story and how it’s come to the point at which it is now? The impulse for Raphael Village began when Mark Redding and I realized there was no place in New Orleans for our son, a young man with autism, to live a full life where he would be engaged in meaningful work and community. Our son attended The Waldorf of School of New Orleans in his early educational years, however it became clear by the fourth grade that he needed a holistic academic setting where he could focus on his individual challenges and gifts. It was out of this inspiration that the seed for Raphael Village slowly matured and set down its roots. Raphael Academy began in the spring of 2012 as an after school program for middle school students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, and other developmental differences. Over time our program offerings have expanded to include a K-12 school and an adult day program. The Guild was established in 2013 to provide post-secondary education and vocational training opportunities to young adults. In 2016, Raphael Village was established to reflect our vision of providing an all-encompassing life-sharing community for differently-abled people throughout all stages of life.
How would you describe Raphael Village’s role in the local community in New Orleans and what impacts are you seeing in the students and Guild members and in the community? Since its inception, Raphael Village has been in a constant state of growth. This year we began construction on our new Town Center which will serve as the hub for all of our activities and programs and is only two blocks from the Academy. Construction will be complete in the spring of 2021 and we look forward to welcoming the Guild home to the Irish Channel neighborhood. As we emerge from the global pandemic our focus will soon return to the planning of our life-sharing community. We continue to explore all funding opportunities, including Medicaid waivers, and could see our first homes as early as 2022. Our intention is to preserve the nurturing home-like setting, interdependence, and social inclusion that is essential to Camphill life.
Can you share a bit about the history of your New Orleans neighborhood and how you have added to the living history of the neighborhood? Like many inner cities during the early to mid ’70s, the historic Irish Channel neighborhood bordering the Mississippi River had fallen on hard times. In the year 2000, as architects, contractors, and realtors, Mark and I, along with immediate family members, set out to renovate the 45,000-square-foot abandoned Bond Bakery building, adapting it into a multi-use building that today includes both commercial and residential use, and our home. The Waldorf School of New Orleans found its home here for fourteen years after flooding in hurricane Katrina. Over the years, we have renovated Soraparu Playground and established several gardens for use by Academy students and Guild members. With over 20 residential and commercial renovations completed within walking distance of the new Town Center, the Irish Channel is a thriving community with countless possibilities for future generations. Raphael Village aims to continue weaving itself into the fabric of the neighborhood for individuals who are differently-abled.
How has Covid-19 challenged your efforts and have there been any silver linings coming from the impacts of the virus this year?
This is from our annual report that we just issued:
While the start of the 2019-20 fiscal year began as so many have in years past, we stepped into 2020 with change and uncertainty. The thread that has run throughout this year is one of ‘Strength and Courage.’ How, in this brave new world, do we welcome this opportunity to learn and grow as an organization and how will we see the silver linings as a guiding force for days ahead. Through technology we have laid the foundation for new friendships far and wide; new friendships that can be seen as seeds for a future bearing impulse that unites us in a common vision of faith, love, and hope for all mankind. We know that with courage and conviction, we open the doorway to an unlimited source of abundance and prosperity.
Please touch on your current numbers: How many students, helpers; how many properties? Currently, there are 10 students enrolled at Raphael Academy and 24 members at the Guild. We intend to grow these numbers to 21 students at Raphael Academy and 40 at The Guild over the next 12 months. Raphael Village employs a three-member Administrative team that oversees all programs and operations at both the Academy and Guild. We employ three lead teachers and two assistants at the Academy, including Megan Riley, our founding teacher and school Administrator. The Guild is fortunate to have two Camphill Academy graduates, Caroline Finck and Laura Mooney, who serve as the Guild’s Program Director and Program Coordinator respectively. They are supported by five full and part-time employed co-workers who fill a range of roles including: pre-vocational and daily living skills, yoga, movement and drama, and artist-guild training. Our facilities include a 3,500-square-foot school building and the new 5,000-square-foot Town Center which will also include a community cafe and catering kitchen. We are always looking for experienced Camphill co-workers who may want to join us in our pioneering efforts down south!
How do you see your community growing in the years to come? With the addition of our life-sharing community, we see a thriving community that is home to approximately 30+ differently-abled individuals. Over the next five years, Raphael Academy will need to add additional classroom space and the Raphael Village community will need a ‘great hall’ for community gatherings and school plays.
Lastly, is there anything else you like to add? Besides those specifically named in this article, there are countless other dedicated members of our community including board members, staff, sponsors, donors, and parents who work tirelessly to ensure that #GoodMayBecome.