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Special family needs own extreme makeover

By Ed Brock

The Murphys are far from being an average family.

In their simple ranch home at the end of a quiet road in Lake City, 53-year-old Jeanette Murphy and 55-year-old John Murphy are raising 20 children, 19 of whom are special needs children.

That ranch home needs some work, but the Murphys were turned down by the ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" because the project was too big. Now some friends of the Murphy family, which include police officers in Clayton and Henry counties, are asking the public to help them give the Murphys their own extreme makeover.

"We in law enforcement have the drive, we have the heart, we have the strength, but not the funds," said Capt. Robin Hollingsworth, commander of the Clayton Regional Law Enforcement Academy. "All they want is a schoolroom and a place for the kids to skate."

Jeanette Murphy said her husband and she spent 12 years working in homes for disabled adults. By that time in their lives the disabled people had not developed certain social skills like the ability to give attention back to those who give attention to them.

"All during that time we kept thinking if only we had gotten these children earlier," Jeanette Murphy said. "Finally we said why don't we just adopt one."

That opened the door, Murphy said, and they began taking in one child after another. They also had three sons and a daughter of their own.

One of their sons, Christian, went to high school with Forest Park contractor Bo Morris, the man behind the plans to build a $300,000 home for the family.

"I had no idea that this was what went on when (Christian) came home," Morris said.

Morris met Christian's parents about four months ago, right around the time he was doing contract work on the "Extreme Makeover" project that was being built about two blocks away from the Murphys. The Murphys made it to the top five choices for the show and the fact that they weren't selected despite their great need lit a fire under Morris' feet.

"I was standing in my kitchen and I said I'm going to do the same thing (Extreme Makeover) does," Morris said.

Hollingsworth said she got involved in the project after Morris, who was going to do some work for her, told her about the Murphys. The cadets at Hollingsworth's academy are officers from Henry and Clayton county police departments.

Lake City Police Chief David Colwell also said his department has been doing what it can to help the Murphys, especially around Christmas and Thanksgiving.

"They have to have the patience of Job to deal with all these kids," Colwell said.

Apart from the numerous repairs needed on the Murphy's 45-year-old house (a broken garage door, air conditioner and swimming pool liner) the Murphys need more room to house the children and the school room.

The idea for a skating area came later, Jeanette Murphy said.

"(Morris) wanted it to be extreme," Murphy said.

Noah Murphy, 12, who has Down Syndrome said he likes skating as much as he likes riding his bike.

"I like the pool, too," said Noah.

His 9-year-old sister Mia also likes the pool, and Jeanette Murphy said they've missed having it since it's been broken.

"In the summer as soon as it starts to get warm they put on their swim suits," Murphy said.

John Murphy had to stop working a few years ago to take care of their son Jonathan when he was diagnosed with leukemia. They live primarily now on about $9,000 a month they receive in Supplemental Security Income payments the children receive from Social Security.

And yet the couple never asked anybody for help, said Diane Murray, a friend of the family and a representative of the Keenan's Kid Foundation.

"They're not going to ask, so we're going to ask for them," Murray said.

Murray's foundation has set up a special Web site for the Murphys, www.murphyhouseproject.com. Those who want to make donations to the project can also call (404) 223-5437.