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Family with 17 children to get new house

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

There is a little house on a hill in Lake City that houses the Murphy family.

The family is made up of a mother, Jeannette, and a father, John, four biological children and 17 adopted special needs children.

Three of the biological children no longer live at home, but everyone else lives together. The house is small, and there are four children for every bedroom. But it is a home -- a cramped home, but a home none the less.

"It's crowded, but it's filled with lots of love," said Angel Murphy, one of the adopted children.

The tight living space for the large family began to attract the attention of other people in the area, and in 1993, a lawyer named Don Keenan decided to help. A year and a half ago, Keenan and his children's foundation took up the task of raising $300,000 to build a new home for the Murphys, and they accomplished that goal in January.

A new home -- in McDonough -- is now being built for the family as a result of the Keenan Kids Foundation's efforts. The family broke ground for the new house on June 19.

"It's great to see the light at the end of the tunnel," said John Murphy. "It's going to be a great house when it is finished ... We wouldn't have had an opportunity to do this without Don's help."

The 5,000-square-foot house will be built on a little more than three acres of land. There will be a technology area; a play area specifically designed for children with disabilities; a dance floor, since the children love to dance; a classroom for home schooling purposes; a new swimming pool, and a new playground.

"I'm excited about the new house, because there are lots of beautiful horses across the street," said Lindsey Murphy.

"I'm happy because everybody is going to have their own room," said her sister, Julia.

"It's going to be much more roomy and we won't have as much clutter," Angel Murphy said.

John and Jeannette Murphy have been adopting children with disabilities since 1983. They were inspired by their experiences in the 1970s as health care providers at a group home for people with disabilities.

Many of the people they worked with never learned basic skills, such as how to clean up behind themselves and how to take care of themselves.

The couple decided it would be a good idea to begin working with children with disabilities at a young age, so they would learn how to take care of themselves. It began with the adoption of their daughter, Shannon, and the family just kept growing, and growing, and growing.

As they kept adopting children, they also had biological children -- Shawn, Christian, Josh and Bethany -- who joined the family.

However, with a large number of children around, the house began to show signs of wear and tear. The roof began to leak. The foundation began to crumble.

The house was being pushed to its limits.

"Clearly, they wore out the last house," said Keenan. "That house was not built for the needs of that many people, and it just got to the point where they needed a new home ... In my 15 years of working with the Murphys, I don't recall a time when everything in that house worked at the same time."

Jeannette Murphy said the current home was not always in as bad a condition as it is now. "In the beginning, when we moved here, it was fine ,because we didn't have as many kids as we now have, and the four we had back then were little," she said. "Plus my brother lived with us, and he maintained the house for us until he moved to North Carolina in 1995.

"We've maintained it as best we could, but the children have grown up. They just don't have their own personal space anymore."