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The Johnson family’s cozy house abounds with one heartwarming ingredient to a happy Thanksgiving — love.
It bubbles up as Deloris and Willie Johnson talk about the two girls they adopted and overflows when they discuss how their family will soon expand again.
The Johnsons began providing foster care to a group of siblings in February, 2009, not knowing how much opening their home would change their lives.
Last year, they adopted Hope Johnson, 4, and her sister Arlene Johnson, 11, through Lucas County Children Services. This year, they decided to adopt their brother Walter Coley, 10, whose paperwork and placement is expected to be finalized by Christmas.
“I never thought I would fall in love, but I did. I got attached to them ... real quick,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I told my husband, I said, ‘I don’t think I can let them go’ ... so we talked about it. He said he couldn’t let them go.”
They are among area families to pursue adoption, a step celebrated by agencies and families every November during National Adoption Month.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Toledo’s Family Connections program, which also offers adoption services, recently marked adoption month with a special Mass at Rosary Cathedral. The program coordinates infant adoptions by families within the diocese’s 19 northwest Ohio counties and offers search-and-reunion services for adoptees placed through its program.
About 16 adoptions took place through the program in 2011 and in 2012, and this year looks to bring similar results, said program coordinator Lynette Worthy.
Children Services finalized 108 adoptions in 2012, a number it expects to exceed this year, said spokesman Julie Malkin. The agency had 99 adoptions in 2011 and 116 in 2010. It’s now recruiting adoptive parents for 43 children, including groups of siblings such as those adopted by the Johnsons.
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The agency finds foster and adoptive homes for children in cases of abuse, neglect, or when birth parents face other challenges such as incarceration and domestic violence or require mental health care.
“Adoption is a really good way for people to create their families, and we have folks who are unable to have families in other ways. We have folks who have raised kids and want to continue to assist and may adopt some older children. ... Those kids sometimes want to be adopted too,” Executive Director Dean Sparks said. “Everyone wants a family.”
Arlene remembers the day she met her family. She was 7 and had been in different foster homes before she, 2-month-old Hope, Walter, and an older brother moved in with the Johnsons. Her older brother stayed with them for a year before moving to another foster home. The four siblings still see each other.
Long after Mrs. Johnson, 61, and Mr. Johnson, 62, raised their four boys, they took the classes required for fostering and opened up their home in the Scott Park neighborhood.
“All my kids were grown. I decided, I had a house and nobody’s here,” Mrs. Johnson said.
They fostered other children before welcoming the three who would become their own.
The Johnsons adopted Hope and Arlene first.
“She’s been grown most of her life,” Mrs. Johnson said of Arlene, adding there were tough days after the children moved in but said they are flourishing as a family.
“They just want to be loved, and when they realize that they are loved they’re OK,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Arlene, a sixth grader at Keyser Elementary whose favorite subject is math, made the principal’s list at school for getting good grades. She plays the cello, takes tap and jazz dance classes, and sings with Hope at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.
Hope, just a baby when she moved in with her new family, formed a special bond with Mr. Johnson, or “Big Will” as the children call him.
Now she’s a precocious preschooler who takes ballet, poses sassily for pictures, and has strong opinions about ponytail placement.
The Johnsons more recently decided to adopt Walter, a fifth grader at Hawkins Elementary School, who was born with a genetic condition called Coffin-Lowry syndrome. The condition can affect height and delay development.
When he first came to the Johnsons, he scooted on his backside, unable to walk, and didn’t speak.
Now he walks, says some words, and has “calmed down a lot,” Mrs. Johnson said. She attributes the strides he’s made to the love and attention he’s received.
Initially, they were unsure if they should officially adopt Walter because of the care and constant monitoring he needs.
But when the Johnsons learned the help and services they received for Walter as a foster child would continue after his adoption, their love for the boy trumped any worries.
“It seemed like since I made that decision to adopt we’ve grown closer,” she said. “It seems like I have more love. ... I don’t understand it, but that’s how it feels.”
With Walter’s adoption about to be finalized, the Johnsons said they have plenty to give thanks for.
“I’m thankful for the people that God has placed in my life. These kids, they have been a blessing,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Those feelings are shared. Arlene said her mother has taught her “a lot about life” and gives good advice, while she finds Big Will “very funny.”
She’s thankful for “a family that cares for me and a home, a nice home.”
The family will gather today with the Johnsons’ grown children and enjoy a big meal with turkey, ham, pies, and cake. One of their sons and his wife are now fostering a child too.
“I keep telling him, this is helping people. That’s what God wanted us to do — be helpers,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Open up your home to these kids. They need somebody, and it’s not really hard if you love doing it.”
Mr. Johnson summed up the spirit of the day, and his growing family, when he said what he’s most grateful for. It’s simple: “Love.”