Stories : Sally Koch

Relationships that bind

Living here has helped me understand better who I am. I see my strengths and my weaknesses and what makes us all human and what binds us together.

Sally Koch had several things on her mind when she applied to become an assistant at L’Arche Harbor House. A recent graduate of the University of South Dakota with a major in psychology and a minor in music, she had tentative plans to attend graduate school in counseling. “But I wasn’t ready for that yet,” says the Nebraska native. “I knew I wanted to volunteer for a year and focus on someone other than me. Also, after growing up in the cold, I knew I wanted to live someplace warm.”

Sally searched the Web for volunteer opportunities. Through Catholic Volunteers in Florida, she was connected to L’Arche Harbor House in Jacksonville. It was the kind of location she’d been looking for, but at first, Sally couldn’t see herself at L’Arche. “I had volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in West Virginia and the Appalachian area in Kentucky, but I didn’t have experience with community living or with physical or developmental disabilities, so I was uneasy about it. Honestly, I said no at first because I was scared. Then, right when I hung up the phone, I realized my mistake. God was telling me to go for it. So I picked up the phone and called back.”

Since then, she hasn’t looked back. “My initial fear was I would say something that would make people uneasy or be disrespectful in some way and not know how to communicate,” she explains. “But I got here and it was just so open and friendly and accepting. I really felt at home by the second week. I’ve been a lot of places, and I’ve never felt like that before. Here, it’s different. It’s very homey.”

That’s not to say that life as a L’Arche assistant has been a cakewalk. “I have a love-hate relationship with change,” notes Sally. “It’s that transitional period. At first, it all seemed a bit overwhelming. I’d have to say patience is necessary. I’ve learned to work on other people’s timetables. I’m here for them, no matter how long it takes to accomplish our tasks together. The good thing is I’m surrounded by camaraderie. Everyone supports you and they understand.”

Sally has also taken to Northeast Florida. “Jacksonville has a lot of different cultures,” she explains. “You have your beach culture, and in the city there’s downtown business, Riverside eclectic, and so on. It’s got sports and the arts. I went to West Side Story with the Jacksonville Symphony. I’m going to see Wicked with (core members) Jeff and Katrina. I also attended a Monster Truck rally! Jacksonville has many hidden treasures that you have to search out. The climate is great, too. All this warm weather is a wonderful change for me.”

Most of all, she’s loving the journey of self-discovery that began the day she arrived. “I really enjoy how people here don’t try to hide their weaknesses and flaws. In some ways, they’re kind of celebrated. That means I don’t have to hide behind a mask or be someone I’m not. L’Arche is very open to self-discovery, to finding the best version of yourself.”