Program Helps Families Stay Together

Monica Matthews was at the lowest point of her life when she met Cordivido Grice, a Family Intervention Specialist with Embrace Florida Kids’ Family Preservation program.

The Milton mother battled mental health issues and had lost custody of her daughter because state child welfare officials feared for the child’s safety. Her daughter had been in foster care for a year, and Matthews was determined to regain custody and be a good mother. With Grice’s help, she accomplished her goals. “I could feel her sorrow,” Grice said. “She knew she messed up, but I told her she could learn from that and grow.”

The Family Preservation program is designed to help at-risk families stay together. EFK’s Family Intervention Specialists work closely with parents to ensure that they have the skills and resources they need to provide safe, loving homes for their children.

“This life is a learning process,” Grice said. “People go through a lot of ups and downs, and we help the parents empower themselves to overcome their roadblocks.”

At first, Matthews was hesitant to work with Grice because she wasn’t sure of his motives. “I told her that I was on her team and that I wanted to help her do whatever she needed to do to get her daughter back,” Grice said. “She had such relief when she realized I wasn’t there to take her daughter away.”

Matthews attended counseling and parenting classes, and she received medical care that helped her get her mental health issues under control. Grice taught her self-care techniques that helped her manage her stress and anxiety, and he provided discipline techniques that focused on teaching instead of punishing.

As a result, her relationship with her daughter improved considerably, and she learned to focus on the positive instead of the negative. “She worked so hard,” Grice said.

“I could see that she loved her daughter a lot and that she wanted to be a better parent. It gives me gratification to see people come out of a bad place in their lives.”

Matthews said she is grateful for the Family Preservation program and the difference it made in her life. “I am well pleased to know that there are agencies in place that actually care about the family,” she said. “We were treated with courtesy and respect, and Mr. Grice has impacted our lives in a positive way that will be with us forever. My daughter is thriving and our family is happy, healthy and full of love.”

Biological Siblings Remain Connected Through Love

Laura Barkalow and Jessie Fancher became fast friends after meeting while walking their kids to school. The Barkalows had recently moved into their Fort Walton home, and the ladies were thrilled to discover that they lived across the street from each other.

They had no idea just how deep their connection would grow. Fast forward six years, and the Barkalows and Fanchers are two families raising nine children who are all connected by love. “It’s been a really amazing experience,” Mrs. Fancher said.

“Our kids have a lot of people who love them.”

The story began when Laura and her husband, Rev. Dave Barkalow, the Senior Pastor at Fort Walton Beach First United Methodist Church, got licensed as foster parents through Embrace Florida Kids. They already had three biological children – Andy, Zadie and Rose – so the plan was to provide love and a temporary home for foster children who would eventually be reunited with their families. It didn’t take long, however, for them to fall in love with the first children placed in their care – Michael and his infant brother Xavier.

Laura and Dave Barkalow have adopted a sibling group of three children through foster care.

A year and a half later, the Barkalows learned that the boys’ birth mother was pregnant again, so they decided to foster that baby, as well. Saphira completed their family, and in April of 2018 they made it official and adopted all three children.

“Sometimes you start on a journey and you wind up someplace better than where you thought you were going,” Rev. Barkalow said.

“We didn’t even know we needed them,” his wife added, “but they were definitely meant to be in our family.” Meanwhile, Jessie and Eric Fancher, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force, were busy with their young children, Ada and Eli. The two families traded babysitting, their kids played together, they shared family dinners, and they grew even closer.

The Fanchers had thought about fostering or adopting themselves and had met with the Embrace Florida Kids staff. They weren’t sure it was feasible, though, since they move around so much as a military family. When they were transferred to Germany, it seemed like the decision had been made.

Not long after the Fanchers moved, though, Mrs. Barkalow learned that her children’s birth mother was expecting again. Knowing that it was likely that this child would enter the foster care system as well, the young mother decided adoption would be the best option for her child.

“I called Jessie and she immediately said, ‘We’ll take him,’” Mrs. Barkalow said.

Mrs. Fancher flew in from Germany a few weeks before the birth mom’s due date and was in the delivery room when Owen, now 2, was born.

Although they are no longer neighbors since the Fanchers are currently stationed in Albuquerque, the two families are grateful that Michael, Xavier, Saphira and Owen will always be in each other’s lives. The families regularly connect through FaceTime, phone calls and photos, but the Fanchers hope to one day return to Florida or the Southeast.

Jessie and Eric Fancher are the adoptive parents of the baby brother to the Barkalow’s adopted sibling group.

“We want them to grow up knowing each other and knowing that their birth mom was doing the best she could for them,” Mrs. Fancher said. “It’s been really sweet for all nine children,” Mrs. Barkalow added. “Our older children were already best friends, but now we’re all family.”

Looking back, it’s been easy for the families to see God’s hand at work. Since military families and Methodist ministers move around a lot, the fact that the two families were neighbors is amazing in itself. “It wasn’t the military dictating where we lived, God made that choice to get us where we needed to be,” Mrs. Fancher said. “People are placed in your life for a reason, and we know what led us all to be at the same place at the same time.”

Help Provide Comfort and Joy This Christmas Season

The beginning of the greatest story ever told is found in the second chapter of Luke. Jesus had just been born, and an angel appeared to the lowly shepherds to bring “good tidings of great joy,” news that gave them the comfort of knowing that their Savior had come.

Jesus’ birth and his promise of everlasting life have provided comfort and joy for believers for more than 2,000 years. They are the greatest gifts Christians have received, and they are some of the best gifts we can give.

Congregations across Northwest Florida will have the opportunity to provide comfort and joy to the hundreds of hurting children in the care of Embrace Florida Kids this Christmas season. By making a gift to the Christmas campaign, you can share God’s love with boys and girls who need it the most.

One definition of “comfort” is “consolation in time of trouble and worry,” and the children and youth served by Embrace Florida Kids have had more than their fair share of both. “Most of the kids in our care have been abused, neglected or abandoned,” said Kristin Alberda, Executive Director of Embrace Florida Kids.

“They come to us feeling less than, with worries and stresses that most of us can’t even imagine. They’re angry, scared, sad, and hurting.”

The Christmas offering, which provides a substantial portion of the organization’s operating budget each year, helps bring joy into their lives. In addition to safe homes, warm beds, and healthy meals, your gifts ensure that they can participate in extracurricular activities and have everything they need, whether it’s band uniforms, prom dresses, school supplies, or a chance to attend college.

“You help provide normalcy,” Alberda said. “Your support allows them to finally put some of their worries aside so they can have a childhood. It’s one of the best gifts you can give this Christmas season.”

If you would like to give to the Embrace Florida Kids Christmas campaign, you can do so by clicking here.