Dr. Paul Helpard recalls the date like it was yesterday — Aug. 10, 1996 — the birth of his first child, Benjamin.
Naturally, the Valley orthodontist was profoundly happy and held high hopes for his newborn, relishing the thought of sharing life’s milestones with his boy. But Helpard and his wife Christine were about to embark on a much different journey than expected.
Within six months, the couple realized Benjamin was developmentally delayed. At four years of age, their son was diagnosed with a metabolic disorder.
Officially, Benjamin was labelled developmentally disabled — a term that Halpern would come to resent.
He and Christine prefer ‘differently abled.’
“His differences have had a profound effect on us and on many others,” Helpard said at a Friday launch of a fundraising campaign for L’Arche Comox Valley. The non-profit charity is raising money to construct a house/activity centre in Courtenay for developmentally disabled adults.
Helpard, who is co-chairing the campaign, recalled a story about a friend who once remarked how a room changes when Benjamin enters it — which Paul and Christine call the ‘Benjamin effect’.”
Their son has taught them things they didn’t know about patience, acceptance and unconditional love.
At one time, the couple had been told Benjamin might not walk or speak. But he has managed to do both, albeit slowly.
“We were impatient,” Paul said. “We eventually realized that we had witnessed miracles. We now cherish slowness.”
The couple notes their son is not unique.
“Others like him — those that L’Arche serves — are all the same,” Helpard said. “If you open your heart to this group, you will gain a better understanding of acceptance, patience and unconditional love.”
L’Arche Comox Valley is one of 29 such communities in Canada. It is also part of a worldwide network of 136 communities in 40 countries.
L’Arche translated means The Ark. Canadian humanitarian Jean Vanier — the son of former governor general Georges Vanier — founded the L’Arche movement 50 years ago. The concept is to include people with developmental disabilities into the daily life of communities.
The local campaign is dubbed I Belong. The goal is to raise $800,000, of which $300,000 has been raised. Contributions are tax-deductible.
In-kind gifts are also welcomed. A list of needed materials and equipment is available upon request.
To donate, visit www.larchecomoxvalley.org.