By Surjit Atwal. I have always thought of my life in terms of what I can do, not what I can’t. But there used to be a long list of things I couldn’t do.
I didn’t walk or talk until I was 9 years old. My balance was never good enough to play sports. I had to be satisfied watching professional hockey on TV. At school, teachers didn’t know what to do with me.
They thought my physical challenges meant I was mentally challenged as well, so they didn’t encourage me to learn.
This was in the 1980s, so they didn’t have the knowledge or the resources they might have today. I was born with cerebral palsy: I count as “disabled”.
Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to work with Matthew’s House as part of my job as Community Outreach Co-ordinator for MLA Darryl Plecas. I have a special connection with this project because of my own experience. Matthew’s House is a respite care home: children like me can stay there, be well-cared for, from 2 days to 2 weeks, while their families take a short break from providing 24-hour care.
Parents are often reluctant to take a break. It is hard for them to leave their children, and as with anything new the children are usually a bit shy the first time. Often a stay at Matthew’s House is the first time the child has ever been away from his or her parents.
But here’s the kind of thing that happens at Matthew’s House. The staff will welcome the children, show them the toys there, and introduce them to other children staying there.
By the time the parents leave – and they can stay overnight themselves until they are sure this will work – the children are usually happily playing. They typically enjoy their stay. One little girl didn’t want to leave. She couldn’t speak but she barred the door to her dad and smiled at him to show she didn’t want to go. The staff does far more than just watch the children.
One staff member was able to help strengthen the legs of a girl who was wheelchair bound by helping her exercise. Another child was helped to sleep without medications. None of this was available to me.
Either my mother or my father, usually my mother, always had to be at home to look after my needs, dressing me and feeding me because I could not do that myself until I was a teenager.
I needed physiotherapy seven days a week, and special trunk support just to walk. Every day, my mother had to pick my sisters and me up from school and drive us from Abbotsford to Surrey; my sisters had to play in another room while I had my physiotherapy.
It was hard for my sisters to spend so much of their lives in a physiotherapist’s waiting room, and for my parents to do more of the physiotherapy at home. It was a hard road.
I have improved so much thanks to all their help: I still walk with a limp, but I graduated from university and was immediately hired as a constituency assistant for MLA Darryl Plecas.
When I see the faces of the children who come into Matthew’s House, they are so excited, and that is priceless. When the parents come in with their children, their faces light up. The generosity of the staff working there is refreshing. They are obviously doing this because they care for the kids, and their care shows on an everyday basis. Matthew’s House is a cause worth supporting.
The provincial government has given $1,025,000 to Matthew’s House and the City of Abbotsford gave them the land. Typically, in BC each child with complex health care needs is eligible for twenty-eight calendar days of respite care. However, exceptions can be made, based on family needs or emergencies, if the change is approved by the Ministry of Children and Family Development Social Worker.
The rate at Matthew’s House for 24-hour care is $100 and families will be able to choose whether this cost will be covered by Ministry respite dollars or from their own finances.
The actual cost to provide the specialized nursing care is more than $400 per day and Matthew’s House relies on the generosity of the community to fund this difference. This amounts to over $800,000 a year. If this kind of facility had existed when I was a kid, it would have helped my family and I.
Matthew’s House needs to be held up as one excellent example of how this kind of help makes it possible for children and families to function better than they can alone. Our community is recognizing that when we provide the extra help that these families need, everyone benefits.
For me, this is a wonderful example of social justice – the guiding principle that says that when we recognize everyone’s rights and offer everyone a helping hand, we are all so much stronger than when we leave the disadvantaged to struggle on their own.
Inspired by the life of a young boy named Matthew, Matthew’s House is a respite care home for children living with complex healthcare needs. Up to five children at a time are cared for in a state-of-the-art residence staffed by experienced caregivers. Medical necessities like overhead track systems for transferring and full wheelchair accessibility will be complimented by a beautiful aesthetic, a multi-sensory playroom and an outdoor playground. Overnight guest suites allow family to remain close while taking a restful step back to refuel themselves.
Located in Abbotsford, BC, Matthew’s House provides care for families from across British Columbia. Matthew’s House is a partner in the Campus of Care, along with Abbotsford Hospice Society and Canuck Place.
Providing families with the support they need, Matthew’s House is about caring for kids, a community encouraging one another, hospitality, compassion and joy. Matthew’s House relies on the generous support of individuals and community partners to provide care for kids and families. Matthew’s House is facilitated by Communitas Supportive Care Society, a local social service agency with a nearly 40-year record of providing quality care to individuals living with disabilities throughout British Columbia.
Atwal is the Community Outreach Co-ordinator for MLA Darryl Plecas. In that role he has been breaking down barriers and bringing groups and individuals together in an unprecedented manner in Abbotsord.
To learn more about Mathew’s House simply click here.
For Darryl Plecas’s Constituency Office click here.