Rachel Vander Vennen: Authentic Leadership and Inclusive Communities

Explore the role of meaningful relationships and nurturing belonging in Rachel Vander Vennen’s impactful work.

In This Episode

In this episode, the spotlight is on Rachel Vander Vennen, an advocate whose journey has been defined by her commitment to building inclusive communities and fostering meaningful relationships.

As the Executive Director of L’Arche Saint John, Rachel’s passion for social inclusion and support for adults with intellectual disabilities takes center stage. Throughout the conversation, the essence of her leadership philosophy shines through—an amalgamation of authenticity, diversity, and a resolute dedication to making a positive impact.

Rachel’s career trajectory, marked by twists of curiosity, brings us face to face with the heart of her narrative. From her academic pursuits at the University of Guelph to her engagement with L’Arche communities, her journey showcases the power of following one’s passions and embracing unconventional paths.

Authenticity takes center stage in the conversation, underscored by Rachel’s insights into authentic leadership and the significance of genuine relationships. She attributes her growth to the support of mentors, such as Dave Stonehouse, and the transformative impact of fostering healthy connections.

We also get to dive into a discussion about the Creative Connections program—a testament to L’Arche’s commitment to creating networks of support and a sense of community. This artistic day program resonates with themes of acceptance, friendship, and belonging, aligning seamlessly with L’Arche’s overarching mission.

The episode concludes with a glance at the “Building Community” event, where our very own Emily Rodger will be taking the stage as emcee. Rachel sheds light on the importance of such gatherings in raising awareness and vital funds to sustain L’Arche’s initiatives. It’s a glimpse into how communities come together to make a tangible difference.

Show Notes

First 10 minutes

Emily and Dave catch up. Dave asks Rachel about what it’s like to experience executive coaching as a client and more specifically, what it’s like to be coached by Emily. Emily and Rachel share how they first met.

10-20 minutes

Rachel introduces herself. She talks about L’Arche Saint John—what they do and who they are. Rachel describes the need for L’Arche communities and tell us that she hopes for more throughout the province.

20-30 minutes

Rachel discusses the need for more funding so that L’Arche can support more people. She shares the heartbreaking reality that there just aren’t enough resources to meet the needs of the community, that there are so many more people deserving of access to a L’Arche community. The group discusses authenticity in leadership and organizations. Dave asks Rachel about the building blocks that led her to her current successes, professionally. She gives credit to some of the amazing mentors, specifically mentioning Dave Stonehouse, and she also credits really healthy and varied relationships that she has had the pleasure of being a part of.

30-40 minutes

Emily asks Rachel about separating her personal and professional lives. Rachel discusses “dropping the façade” and in entering into really authentic relationships with people whether at work or not. She shares her desire to bring her most authentic selves to all spaces, which leaves little room for being a different human personally and professionally. The group talks about striking a work-life-balance and Rachel shares that part of her leadership style is tuning into what makes her team come alive—what energizes them—and then helping/encouraging them to work that into their work day. Dave asks Rachel about the Creative Connections program, which started in 2016. Rachel explains that it is an artistic day program with a huge focus on community, relationships, belonging, acceptance, friendship, and building a network of support.

40+ minutes

Rachel shares info about an upcoming fundraising event that Emily is emceeing called Building Community. It will take place at Delta Hotels by Marriott Saint John on Wednesday, September 27th. Details can be found at https://larchesaintjohn.org/. The goal of the event is to grow support for L’Arche and and awareness of what L’Arche is and does, along with the need for L’Arche to continue to grow throughout New Brunswick. Rachel explains that L’Arche fundraises about 50% of their annual budget each year and this event is a huge help. Dave asks Rachel about her history with and keenness for L’Arche. She says she was drawn to their values and their model of care and community support.

Dave and Emily share their takeaways.

Rachel Vander Vennen

Rachel Vander Vennen

Executive Director of L'Arche Saint John

Rachel Vander Vennen is an advocate for community building, social inclusion, and meaningful relationships. As the Executive Director of L’Arche Saint John, she is dedicated to building inclusive communities that celebrate, support, and foster a sense of belonging with adults with intellectual disabilities.

Rachel holds a B.A. in International Development and an M.A. in Geography from the University of Guelph. Her community-based Master’s research focused on strategies for non-profit revenue diversification, addressing both food insecurity and food waste. Both academic degrees helped guide her path towards finding innovative solutions that positively impact vulnerable communities, and have been instrumental in shaping her approach to community leadership and collaboration.

Throughout her career, Rachel has embraced a dynamic and unconventional path. Rather than pursuing a singular career trajectory, she has had the privilege of following threads of curiosity that have led her to remarkable opportunities, from working with low-income neighbourhoods in Guelph, Ontario, to supporting refugees in Toronto, to living and working with the L’Arche community in Chicago.

Rachel’s journey has been influenced by a deep-seated desire to build meaningful relationships and create inclusive spaces. As a young leader, these values remain at the very core of her approach to non-profit leadership.