Ashley Burkhart and her husband Shawn live in New Iberia with their six children. Shawn was a member of the United States military and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. After returning home, Shawn was diagnosed with both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Shawn spent over two years in the VA hospital system. While there, he was housed in the wounded warrior department where he received his diagnoses, rehabilitation and finally his honorable discharge from the military. It would then take another two years for Shawn and Ashley to adjust to his new life at home.
In 2008, Shawn adopted all four of Ashley’s children (from her first marriage). However, the battle for their family was far from over. Ashley and Shawn spent three years fighting for custody of Shawn’s youngest daughter, Jadyn as well as navigating the legal aspects of Shawn’s retirement from the military due to injury. It is this fight that has encouraged Ashley to switch her degree from social work to criminal justice. She has a deep understanding of the struggle other families will face, and wants to commit her life to helping them.
The couple had first considered moving to North Carolina where Shawn is originally from and where his oldest son still lives, but eventually decided that they wanted to settle their family in Louisiana. Ashley, a Louisiana native, met Shawn here while he was stationed at Fort Polk. Like many families, Ashley and Shawn did not want to continue renting a home that they could not own. They pulled their finances together, and purchased a camper to house their family of eight. They eventually purchased a small cabin-like shed and converted it to a small house for their family. However, none of these were the right option for such a large family.
The Burkhart’s struggled for several years trying to secure a home and mortgage. After looking into several programs designed to assist families looking for a home, Ashley and Shawn came to Southern Mutual Help Association. Not wanting to take anything for free, the family was hesitant to talk with SMHA. SMHA immediately recognized the spirit of self-help in Ashley and her family. After several months of credit counseling and working with their finances, Ashley and Shawn were able to secure a loan through SMHA. Now, the family lives in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home of their own with their children Nick (14), Caleb (12), twins Lisa and Alissa (11), Jadyn (10), Isaac (10) and Sarah (7).
Ashley works for the VA Health Administration Center as a personal care servicer as the primary caregiver for Shawn as well as taking care of their children. She is also a student at South Louisiana Community College, where she is pursuing a degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice. Her family’s journey has inspired Ashley to help other families who need and help. Thanks to their unwavering determination and self-help, the Burkhart family has finally found a place to call home.