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.
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.
“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.”