For 17, years they lived their life as they had wanted. They went where they wanted when they wanted. They did what they wanted when they wanted without having to consider anyone or anything else. The house was quiet except for an occasional disturbance by one of their seven dogs. While life was good, something was missing.
During the first week of August 2007, Joan and Kevin Hostetler began looking to fill the void in their lives. They could not have children, so they began considering the possibility of adopting them. They could not know what would be in store for them.
"We started working with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, but they were so short handed and had such a case backlog that it was going to take months and months and months before they could start working with us," Joan Hostetler said. "Not wanting to wait so long, we went to the Burlington United Methodist Family Services, an adoption agency that works closely with the DHHR and got the proceedings underway."
SERENA, KATIE AND CIARA
"Our preparation and qualification to become adoptive parents required that we attend several weeks of parenting classes, a background check had to be made and as well as a home study," the Hostetlers said. "All this had to be done before the adoption authorities would even talk to us about adopting children. It took until February 14, 2008, to get all this done."
When the couple began thinking about adoption, they considered two or maybe three children, according to Joan. But that notion changed.
"Burlington had this family of girls in a foster home for over a year," Kevin said. "In fact, they went in the foster care home the same day we began qualification procedures to become adoptive parents. We didn't know that of course but we had heard about them during our parenting classes. We heard that there had been five little girls - sisters - in the system since November 2007."
Joan said the adoption agency casually mentioned the girls to them.
"They told us that it looked like the children would not be going back to the home of their biological parents and that they were going to need a home where they could be kept together," she said. "They, the adoption agency, didn't want to split them up.
Initially, the Hostetlers declined.
"We had no thoughts of adopting five little girls at once," Kevin said.
"We wanted to go the 'foster home-to-adopt' route," Joan said, "because we wanted to get them, whoever we might adopt, in the home for the transition. After the word got out that we had qualified to become a foster home, we began receiving calls about other children who needed a foster home but we only wanted children who were adoptable. We didn't want to be taking children into our home and becoming attached to them and then have to give them up. That would be too heartbreaking for us, plus our goal was to adopt, not to just foster.
The adoption agency continued to mention the girls and offered to set up a meeting. The couple even received a photo and began talking about the possibility of giving the girls a home."The adoption agency said that if we'd come visit them they would make sure that the children wouldn't know why we were there - they would just see us observing them. We went and that was what did it," Joan said.
Kevin said, "Alexa was the one that stole our hearts; she's the one that did us in. She was 3 - just before turning 4. She ran out and grabbed Joan by the leg and asked if we were going to be their new mommy and daddy. That created a pretty strong bond right there."
"It was Memorial Day weekend when we first went to see them," Joan recalls. "When we left, the agency told us to take our time thinking about the girls and their adoption. Over the weekend we're thinking, 'Oh my goodness - what are we to do.' I called them back on the following Tuesday - they were closed on Monday for Memorial Day. When I called the social workers and told them that we would take the girls they began screaming - they were so excited. They knew then that they had found a home for the girls and they would not be split up."
"The parents at the foster home the Hostetlers visited had their own children.
"They were concerned that if they adopted the girls they would then have the same legal rights as their biological children," Kevin said. "It appeared that they were quite concerned about breaking the girls up, too. They seemed to want to keep them together but they were strictly fostering the children."
Once the Hostetlers told the adoption agency that they would adopt all the little girls, the agency began letting the couple bring the children home for weekends to get the adjustments that everyone would have to make under way. The agency also wanted to make sure that their relationship and rights with their natural parents had been terminated before they were moved again.
"We moved the children into our home on Oct. 4, 2009," Kevin said. "It all happened on Saturday during the Forest Festival's Grand Feature Parade. We went to their foster home and picked them up and brought them 'home.' It was great."
When asked what it was like being a family of two one day and the next being a family of seven, Kevin said, "Overwhelming!"
Joan said, "We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary about a week ago. We were married for 16 years and all of a sudden 'bam' there are seven of us. All of us have had to go through a tremendous transition and adjustment but it just seemed to come together - it's been a wonderful time," she said.
Kevin said there have been some difficulties - especially for the children.
"They have had to learn a new standard of discipline that we exercise in our home that's different from the homes they had been in for so long before," he said. "It took quite a while to get them stabilized - get them acclimated to the way we do things in our home and what we expect of them as family members. We also had to make the adjustment of being sensitive and responsive to their wants and needs - something that for 16 years had not been a part of our lives."
According to Joan, the twins took to the couple immediately.
"When we would bring them to our home for the weekend, prior to the permanent move, and then take them back to the foster home the foster parents would call and say, 'they are crying for you. They are already calling you mommy and daddy,'" Joan said. "I don't know what it was but they were drawn to us immediately. We moved them into to our home just one month after they turned 2 years old - in fact the foster parents let us have them the weekend they turned 2 for their birthday celebration."
When asked if they had by now settled into a family routine, Kevin said, "Believe me, with five little girls in the home nothing is routine. There is always something going on and in most cases it is not what one would consider routine."
The children range in ages from 9 to 4. The three oldest ones attend North Elementary School and the twins, now 4 years of age, are in daycare.
"Each has a very distinct and different personality - especially the twins," Joan said. "Emily Grace is 9 and is in the fourth grade; Kathryn, we call her Katy, is 7 and in the first grade with Alexa, age 6, also in the first grade. The twins, Ciara and Serena - both little spit fires - are 4 years old and in daycare. They want everything in the kitchen cabinets and furniture drawers out in the floor where they can see it. They are complete opposites but they get along great. They have developed their own language. We don't know or understand all the time what they are saying to each other but they know what they are saying. They are so different - and so loveable."
The Hostetler family is also one that loves pets. They have seven dogs of varying blood lines including an 11-year-old black lab, a golden retriever, a Jack Russell terrier, an Alaskan husky, a corgi mix and "a couple of mutts" as Kevin puts it.
Most of the dogs, according to the Hostetlers, were strays, some with serious injuries, that came by and "we started feeding them or giving them treats and they adopted us as their masters," they said.
"Things are much different now," Joan and Kevin agreed, "but our lives are complete. At the outset we never dreamed of adopting five little girls at once; but after we came to know them, we knew we were doing the right thing. We're very fortunate to have them."