Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
RIVERTON — Theirs is a lovely home, perfect for family.
But from the time Benjamin and Adrienne Donner moved into their new house, they knew something was amiss.
"It's funny. We've lived here for five years now. We've always talked about how it's too big for us."
On Thursday, the Donner family of four became a family of nine when Abby, Jerry, Christine, Andrea and Tammy arrived in Utah from Oregon. The children, ages 6 to 12, are siblings, whom the Donners adopted from foster care.
After eight years of fertility treatments and failed adoptions, the Donners adopted two children as infants. Brighton and Brandon are now 6 and 4.
"We knew we wanted to grow our family. We've been on the hunt try to figure out where the Lord wanted us to find them," Adrienne Donner said.
The Donners found the sibling group on two different websites, Northwest Adoption Exchange and Family for Every Child. In May, they expressed their interest in the children.
The couple didn't start out with the intention of adopting a sibling group, let alone five children. But the Donners were committed to adopting older children because they know that it is more difficult to place older children with adoptive families.
"We've been advocates of adoption for many years. It's like everyone wants a baby. That's the big desire out there. But the older kids get forgotten," Benjamin Donner said.
After they expressed their interest in the sibling group, a social worker contacted them to ensure they were committed to applying. Then came requests for additional information. Then the waiting process for approval.
Once everything fell into place, the couple traveled to Oregon to meet the children, who had been split between two foster homes.
It was a life-changing visit for all of them.
One of the foster families had T-shirts made that said "Team Donner." When Benjamin and Adrienne Donner came to visit, the children came bounding out of the house in the matching shirts.
"They started calling us mom and dad," which was somewhat overwhelming, Adrienne Donner said.
"We didn't feel we had earned it yet. We haven't been in that role."
The children were polite, well behaved and the visit enabled them to learn a little bit about each of them, such as Jerry's passion for the University of Oregon football team and Christine's infectious giggle.
The children had obviously endured many challenges. "They're amazing kids. They're happy and resilient. They have the greatest little personalities. They care so much about each other," she said.
On the plane ride home, the Donners contemplated what it would be like to have seven children under one roof.
There were a lot of mixed emotions, Benjamin Donner said.
"We were excited we finally got to meet them. At the same time the reality set in. It was big time reality. This is actually happening. We were excited to get back here and start preparing for them to come," he said.
On Thursday, the family's attention was turned to last-minute preparations to get the house ready for their new additions.
Mom and dad were the picture of calm. Brighton and Brandon were trying hard to contain their excitement. Brighton and Tammy are the same age. "She's so excited to have a virtual twin," Benjamin Donner said.
"He's excited for a big brother," Benjamin Donner said of Brandon. "He keeps calling Jerry his Jerry. 'My Jerry,' he says."
The Donners said they mostly want their children to feel welcome and wanted. It will take time to get to know one another, to settle into a rhythm as a family and figure out what makes each of them tick.
While they were brimming with joy on Thursday, the Donners said they were sensitive to the fact that moving to Utah and leaving loving foster families would be emotionally taxing for the children
"I can't even imagine. They're waving goodbye to everything they know," Adrienne Donner said.
The children will likely start school next week, which means the family will have a few days to establish a routine and have time to get to know one another.
Adrienne Donner said she believes faith will guide the family's journey.
"We have the grace of God. Honestly, that is the only way this to going to happen. He's told us this is what he wants us to do. Without His help each and every day, there's no way we're going to be able to do this."
As for their home, adding five children is a perfect fit, Benjamin Donner said.
"It turns out it's just the right size now. Now, all the bedrooms will be full."
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