Madeline Seefeldt

A college internship with L’Arche brought Madeline Seefeldt to St. Louis where she found a career path and a new home. As an assistant with L’Arche, she lived and worked with adults with intellectual disabilities. Later, she transitioned to local development coordinator, raising awareness of the organization through community outreach. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The thought of living in St. Louis never crossed Madeline Seefeldt’s mind while attending Grove City College.

To be fair, she says, most people in western Pennsylvania don’t think much about the Gateway City – unless the Cardinals are playing the Pirates. However, it’s where she’s built a career, found a family and advanced her education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis School of Social Work.

The road to her new home started with a suggestion.

Seefeldt was part of a service group that visited people with intellectual disabilities each week, and her family saw how much she enjoyed it.

“I first heard about L’Arche from my dad, who had read some books by someone who was part of a L’Arche community in Canada,” she says. “He thought I might be interested in doing a summer internship with them.”

L’Arche is an international organization that provides community and residential support for adults with intellectual disabilities. There are 18 communities in the U.S., but when Seefeldt interviewed with the national body for an internship, she had no idea where she wanted to go.

“They placed me in St. Louis,” she says. “It ended up being a really great experience, and I came back after graduating.”

St. Louis started with one L’Arche house in 2011 and now has three, which are home to 11 adults with disabilities and several live-in caregivers, known at L’Arche as assistants.

Everyone shares daily life, from chores to meals. It’s a unique arrangement for a social services provider, but the person-centered approach creates strong bonds.

“Each person in the home, whether it’s somebody with or without disabilities, has responsibilities,” Seefeldt says. “It has a family feel.”

Seefeldt worked as a live-in assistant for three years before going to a large L’Arche community in Lithuania for six months. The experience was enlightening, as she had to mostly rely on nonverbal communication because of the language gap.

Back stateside, she started splitting her time between her role as an assistant and outreach work, hosting days of service and talking to schools and church groups about life at L’Arche. Eventually, she transitioned to local development coordinator and moved out of L’Arche into her own apartment. Though she’d never imagined going to graduate school, a degree in social work seemed appealing as her responsibilities grew.

She chose UMSL’s MSW program because it offers students opportunities to get to know their professors and customize the program to their interests, but it’s also helped her diversify her worldview.

“I’ve learned a lot academically,” she says, “But I am most appreciative of the ways my UMSL experience has challenged me to think differently and more broadly about the world and about St. Louis.”

Seefeldt is continuing her studies and figuring out how to do outreach during a pandemic, and though she no longer lives in a L’Arche house, it will always be home.

“When I’m walking outside of my apartment, I’ll often see people out on the deck,” she says. “I can go and catch up. That’s a big highlight because this community has become my St. Louis family.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2020 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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Burk Krohe

Burk Krohe

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