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Large family celebrates new home

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

After waiting for almost five years, members of the Murphy family are settling into their new house.

John and Jeanette Murphy, and their 19 children, recently moved from a more than 40-year-old Lake City home to a brand new house a few miles from the McDonough Square.

Of the 19 children in the family, 17 are adopted and have special needs that require extra care. Their disabilities include Down syndrome, autism, and heart defects.

Since 1983, after volunteering at a facility for mentally disabled adults, the couple has been welcoming individuals with special needs into their home. After 22 years in Lake City, they realized in 2004 they were outgrowing that home's 4,200 square feet.

"It was 45 years old," John Murphy said. "You had to walk through a bedroom to get to a bathroom."

The family's new home in McDonough, built on three acres, is 7,000 square feet and includes nine bedrooms and eight bathrooms.

Jeanette Murphy said she was delighted to be able to walk through her new house earlier this week.

"It's amazing," she said. "It's an incredible miracle to me."

Construction of the house was organized and financed by the Keenan's Kids Foundation, an Atlanta-based group formed in 1993 to train law students and practicing lawyers to be more aware of the needs of at-risk children in the legal system. The home was made possible through a 16-year friendship between the Murphys and Don Keenan, the founder of Keenan's Kids Foundation, said Jessica Holthaus, the foundation's executive director.

"At the old house there were 10 girls sharing two closets, and seven boys sharing one closet. Here, there's a lot more room," Holthaus said.

After a lengthy fundraising campaign, construction on the new house began two years ago, said John Murphy.

The new home includes an exercise room with a treadmill, a mini-trampoline and adaptive-therapy equipment, a recreation room with games and a pool table, and a gymnastics room with a tumbling mat.

To accommodate the children's home schooling, one room was made into a classroom and includes a blackboard, computers, books, maps and educational materials. Outside is an in-ground swimming pool, and a play area in the back yard with slides and climbing equipment.

"It's huge, and the kids have more storage area," said Jeanette Murphy. "They can actually keep their personal belongings in a space of their own. They used to have to pile it on the bed."

She said there is also more room to prepare meals and do laundry.

The children also welcome the chance to spread out.

"They didn't think this day would ever come, because we kept talking about it," said Jeanette Murphy. "They just didn't believe it would happen."

Each child now has his or her own closet, added John Murphy, which makes it easy to organize everyone's belongings.

Move-in day was Wednesday, and was marked by an open house. The atmosphere was celebratory as children led visitors on tours through the upstairs and downstairs rooms.

Jeanette Murphy said she plans to spend some time in the family swimming pool when the moving is finished.

"This has been exhausting," she said.