When Jennifer and Trevor Barkman say “whoever the Lord brings to us, we’ll be open to including them in our family” they are very serious. It is this openness that has brought their three boys into their lives: Jonathan (8), Matthew (6) and David (3), all adopted and each boy living with challenges.
Jonathan and David are biological brothers and live with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Matthew was born with a chromosomal deletion issue that has resulted in a number of challenges: he is nearly blind and nearly deaf (and so he is also non-verbal), he needs a wheelchair to get around and is tube fed. As parents, Jennifer and Trevor have organized their lives in such a way that they can give each boy the kind of care and attention that they need. They are both teachers. Trevor teaches at Highroad Academy in Chilliwack, which has a wonderful program for children with special needs so Matthew goes to school with him. Jennifer homeschools Jonathan, which also allows her to care for David.
But every parent needs a break sometimes and while they have very supportive family and friends who are willing to help out with child care from time to time, Matthew’s complex needs require special care. That’s why the Barkmans are grateful for Matthew’s House in Abbotsford.
Named for another Matthew, the son of Doug and Andrea Froese, Matthew’s House supports families by providing quality care for children who have complex care needs. It’s a warm and inviting home, equipped to care for children like Matthew and staff are trained in relevant medical and behavioural practices, giving parents peace of mind.
“Matthew loves going there,” Jennifer says. “He enjoys the one on one attention he gets when he visits.”
While Matthew enjoys his stay there, Jennifer and Trevor are able to do more active things with his brothers. They are an active family and enjoy biking, hiking, or kayaking. Sometimes they just enjoy the simple pleasure of eating at a favourite restaurant. They enjoy traveling as well, something they used to do with Matthew when he was younger.
“Matthew has been all across Canada and visited most of the western United States. He really loves Disneyland with all its noise and stimulation,” Jennifer explains.
But as he got older, Matthew developed other complications that made it very difficult for him to travel. He developed seizures and needs to be tube fed. He is a growing boy and it has become harder to carry him or to change him. These realities have also made it harder for aging grandparents to offer the kind of practical support they have in the past. When Jennifer’s sister, who is a special education teacher and who also offered support, moved to the Okanagan, Jennifer and Trevor realized things needed to change.
“So we started to ask for help,” Jennifer says
They’ve received support from many agencies and local businesses. They also have a very supportive church community at Valley Heights Community Church.
“We have such an amazing church family,” Jennifer says. “They have truly gone the extra mile. They really understand.”
It’s a bittersweet thing for Jennifer and Trevor, knowing that some of the things that Matthew has enjoyed so much are no longer possible for him but they’re learning to accept this. And just as Trevor and Jennifer have opened their lives to whoever the Lord would bring to them, it seems that the Lord has also provided them with the support they need to raise these three special boys. They are grateful for all the support they receive, including Matthew’s House, which enables them to meet the needs of their whole family.
“It’s great that the staff there really understand his disabilities and how to care for Matthew. It gives us the break we need,” Jennifer says. “Matthew’s House is a great resource for our family.”