With Thanksgiving approaching, Donna and Stanley Jenkins have at least 19 blessings for giving thanks.
Make that 20 blessings, as the Grovetown couple is thankful they have a dining table big enough for their family of 16 adopted children and three biological children.
"It's two tables put together, shaped like a T," Mr. Jenkins said. "It'll fit about 20 people."
On Thursday, the family will load up and head to a family member's house for the holiday, but not until after celebrating Thanksgiving with those in need.
"The weekend before Thanksgiving we have a big Thanksgiving for friends and ... less fortunate people," Mr. Jenkins said, adding the feast, which typically feeds about 50 people, also will be prepared for some area veterans and families from up north with nowhere else to go for the holiday.
The Jenkinses' adopted children range in age from 9 to 19. The Jenkinses have three biological children from previous marriages, who are grown and live on their own.
The couple's most recent reason for thanks is the newest addition to their family -- Colin, 11, who was brought into their home about a month ago from Chicago, after initially being adopted from Romania.
"It seems like he's always been here," Mr. Jenkins said.
Mrs. Jenkins agreed: "He fit in from the very beginning."
Mrs. Jenkins said she's always dreamed of a big family, and after having her two sons, she wanted a girl. When she couldn't have any more kids of her own, Mrs. Jenkins opted for adoption. She adopted Travis, 19, Terrell, 17, and Toby, 13, from South Korea in 1998, before she married Mr. Jenkins.
In 2001, the then-married couple brought Angel, 18, Zarina, 16, and Alan, 19, from Kazakhstan. A few years later, Reyna, 18, Silvia, 16, and Laura, 13, joined the ever-growing Jenkins clan from Guatemala. In 2005, the family grew by three with the addition of Scott, 13, Abby, 11, and Santia, 10, from Liberia.
By late 2007, three more Jenkinses were added to the household from Latvia -- Anita, 14, Ginta, 12, and Trevor, 9.
"We get them in groups of three," Mr. Jenkins said.
Colin's pending adoption was a surprise.
International adoption of older children is a passion the couple feels drawn to pursue.
"Everybody wants a baby," Mr. Jenkins said, adding that most of their children were adopted between the ages of 9 and 11. "Nobody wants the older kids. Every orphanage we've been to, that's a common theme. They'll tell you these kids don't have a chance."
But the Jenkinses are determined to give the children a loving home where they can prosper.
"When you adopt a child that is older, you actually know their personality," Mrs. Jenkins said, adding that international adoption, especially of so many children, is not for everyone. "It's a gift."
But with 16 children -- 11 of them teens -- the Jenkinses have become masters of large family life.
The household revolves around a board that keeps track of the children's assigned chores, which determine their allowances. Usually, the kids get their age in dollars, with deductions for not doing chores or other infractions.
The kids describe living in a home with so many siblings as loud, fun and chaotic.
"It's survival of the fittest," Zarina said.
Colin, the newest to the home, said he likes his new family.
"It's fun," he said. "I have lots of brothers and sisters to play with."
But the house also carries the constant brotherly bickering between Toby and Scott, the sound of running clothes washers and dryers, and races for one of the home's three bathrooms.
"I like hour-long showers," Zarina admitted.
All the kids are required to be ready for school by a certain time. How to get baths and breakfast before then is up to them, Mr. Jenkins said.
Managing money with such a large family is a challenge for the Jenkinses. They stopped spending $700 a month for school lunches, opting for $400 worth of lunch-making materials so the kids take their own. The Jenkinses buy a dishwasher about every 18 months and have found it useful to buy the extended warranty on the household's double set of washers and dryers.
The adoptions alone cost $10,000 to $15,000 each. The Jenkinses spend nearly $2,000 per month on groceries.
"We owe so much money it's unbelievable," said Mrs. Jenkins, who is a nurse at University Hospital. She and her husband, an electronics technician who works as a civilian Department of Defense contractor on Fort Gordon, are thrifty and work extra when they can. They've maxed out credit cards, borrowed against their 401(k) plans and have taken out a second mortgage on the house, but the couple makes it work.
"We rely on faith," Mr. Jenkins said. "The Lord takes care of us and we jump out there sometimes and we don't know how we do it."
But the children are reward enough.
In the large group, some are artists, others athletes and others academically gifted. And being exactly what they are and encouraging the children's positive attributes is what the Jenkinses try to foster.
All the chaos in the Jenkins house is balanced with love, the couple said. And more adoptions aren't out of the question.
"The main reason people don't do something in life is fear," Mrs. Jenkins said. "Everybody has their gifts. We're really, really blessed."
To read more about the Jenkinses and international adoption, visit the family's Web site at jenkinsfamily.ws.
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