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Published: Sunday, 3/28/2004

Family grows in community support, too

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Amy Mathews, right, and her husband, Dan, left, with their daughters, clockwise: Kim, 8; Molly, 7; Heidi, 10; Hannah, 6; Olivia, 3; and Brittany, 4, at their Northwood home. Amy Mathews, right, and her husband, Dan, left, with their daughters, clockwise: Kim, 8; Molly, 7; Heidi, 10; Hannah, 6; Olivia, 3; and Brittany, 4, at their Northwood home.
FRASER / BLADE Enlarge

The television crews are gone. There are no more celebrities waving and cameras flashing on the red carpet. And visits with Mickey, Pluto, and Goofy are now just happy memories.

But the outpouring of good will, in the form of boxloads of clothing, letters, e-mails, phone calls, and monetary donations are a constant reality for Amy and Dan Mathews of Northwood.

It has been about a month since the Mathewses, who adopted six sisters in November, 2002, traveled to California with their daughters, ages 3 to 10, and Amy's parents, Nancy and Loyd Healey of Millbury, Ohio, and Kelly Jordan, courtesy of ABC's Good Morning America. Mrs. Jordan, a foster care specialist for Wood County Department of Jobs and Family Services, is the person who first told the couple about the six biological siblings who were in the foster care system and on the verge of being separated and adopted by different families.

It all began when the Mathewses were first thrust inthe spotlight after a local television news report aired the story about the couple and their adoption of six sisters -- Heidi, 10; Kim, 8; Molly, 7; Hannah, 6; Brittany, 4, and Olivia, 3. The report was sent to GMA, which also aired the family's story in its Amazing Family segment.

The Mathewses first met at a softball game in 1994 and said they had tried, with the help of fertility treatments, to have children naturally. They were unsuccessful. They have wanted a big family ever since they married in 1997.

After rounds of fertility treatments, and foster parenting, the couple decided to begin the process of adoption. It was during that process that Mrs. Jordan showed them photos of the six sisters, and the couple was so interested that Mrs. Mathews started buying toys and preparing spare bedrooms before the adoption was even finalized.

"We cried all the way home. Dan I and just knew that these children were waiting for us," said Mrs. Mathews.

The outpouring of support from family, friends, and strangers throughout the country started when the adoption was finalized, but swelled last month after GMA weatherman Tony Perkins showed up at the couple's Chantilly Rue home and surprised the 28-year-old stay-at-home mother with the news that she would attend the 76th Academy Awards with ABC's senior legal correspondent, Cynthia McFadden. Mr. Mathews, 31, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Toledo, kept the events a secret from his wife.

In California, GMA also treated the party of 11 to a VIP tour and visit to Disneyland and Universal Studios, a stay at the Beverly Hills Hilton, Disneyland Resorts, complimentary meals, hotel visits from GMA anchor Diane Sawyer, and a limousine at their disposal. For her Oscars adventure, Amy was treated to a Nicole Miller strapless black gown, Stuart Weitzman high heels, Harry Winston pearl and diamond jewelry, and salon services from celebrity stylist Frederic Fekkai.

The well-publicized California trip, along with Amy's momentary fame on the famous Academy Awards red carpet, where she was recognized by several fans, prompted the couple to open a bank account especially for donations from people around the country touched by their story. The couple has so far received almost $2,000 in donations.

The garage attached to their two-story home and several rooms inside are also a testament to fans who have reached out - they are filled with cardboard and plastic boxes upon boxes of clothing, toiletries, coats, toys, and other items, from detergent and toothpaste to store gift certificates, given to them by strangers, family, and friends in the community.

And the donations keep coming. "Someone wrote us from Kentucky, we just got $150 from someone in Connecticut, there's e-mails from Michigan, and we got a call from a woman in Texas who wants to send us all these clothes. It doesn't seem real," said Mr. Mathews after he helped his eldest daughter, Heidi, at the kitchen table with her homework. Mrs. Mathews chimed in, "Frederic Fekkai just sent us a whole gift bag of stuff for me and Dan just last week, and the Northwood Schools have been awesome and given us so much."

Mrs. Jordan, the foster care specialist who went to California with the Mathews clan on her own vacation time, said the national attention to the couple and their adopted daughters has affected many.

"I think it brought out a lot of positiveness in the adoption system. The interest level within this agency for adoptions has doubled, and it's attributed to all the media coverage," said Mrs. Jordan, who added it is rare for a family to adopt a large group of siblings, especially those who are considered older children and not infants.

"They told me, 'We want all of them!' They spend time with each of them and ... their children never go without."

Mrs. Jordan said that she and her husband have long talked about adoption, and after hearing the Mathewses' story, they are involved in a pending adoption with another agency.

The Mathews home is filled with photos of the couple with their daughters. As you walk in the door there is a plaque that reads "Home Sweet Home."

Because the family has a listed phone number, it has been easy for people across the country to call them and find their e-mail address on the Internet. They added that they are forever grateful for the support, and wish they could thank everyone in person.

"We don't feel like we're anything special; we are the lucky ones to have this family," said Mrs. Mathews, who grew up in Northwood with one brother. Dan, a Curtice native, has three sisters. "It's crazy, in a good way, what is going on with us. We are so happy and so blessed. If people only knew how desperately we just wanted a big family."

So big that the couple is considering future adoptions and recently heard about five biological brothers who are in need of a home. However, the couple, who are foster parents (before and after the adoption), said they want to wait before considering any more adoptions until they move into their new 2,400-square-foot, six-bedroom home now being built on property purchased in Genoa by Amy's parents. The couple even added two new 8-week-old Beagle pups, Daisy and Pluto, to their already large family.

Although still filled with excitement from the trip and the outpouring of support, the Mathewses reflect on the fact that their daughters did not come to them without problems. Several have had counseling, but have improved dramatically from living in a sound family environment, the couple said. The school-age daughters have all raised their grades from Cs, Ds, and Fs to As and Bs, said Mrs. Mathews. "It was just meant to be. I've always felt like they were our own children. We are very, very religious, and I think that God just gave us the strength and the courage to be their parents and handle a large family."

Mrs. Mathews follows a strict schedule through the week to get the girls dressed, fed, dropped off and picked up from school, and prepared for homework. When Mr. Mathews arrives home after 3:30 p.m., he helps get dinner prepared. The family eats together every night. He also helps the children finish homework. "When it really hits me is after I put them all to bed and they go to sleep. I get so excited and I tell my wife, 'Oh my gosh, look at these girls. They are ours and they are so beautiful. I get emotional,' " he said.

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.



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