At 6:40 a.m. in rural Arkansas, the Hawthorn family is normally waking up — and it’s no small ordeal.
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Kyndal, Lacey, Layna, Arria, and Addiley — five sisters — are book-ended by their two brothers, Dawson and Nixson. All seven were unrelated to sibling toddlers Korgen and Haizlee until the nine became family when they were adopted out of foster care.
Terri and Mike Hawthorn are high school sweethearts, have been married 36 years and had already raised four biological kids before becoming mom and dad to this extended brood.
Mike, 57, makes a living in landscaping. It’s his wife, Terri, 54, whose full-time job is to care for the children.
“I never get a day off,” she told “Nightline.” “When I’m not feeling well, the house falls apart. If I don't do the rooms daily… within two days you can’t see the carpet.”
The Hawthorns have a history of welcoming strangers into their home. While raising their biological children, they took in exchange students for years. But even then, Terri seemingly needed more little feet running around, so she started a daycare she would end up running for 20 years. And as her own kids grew older, she began taking in foster children. She says her family has fostered 80 children over five years.
“When we got Korgen, [we] just absolutely fell in love with him, I knew I wasn't gonna be able to let him go,” she said. “We found out he had a little sister that was born, and in order to adopt one — they try to keep sibling groups together — we decided that we would proceed with adopting [them].”
It was during that time that another set of siblings came through their doors. “We thought when we first started fostering them, there was only three," she said. “Then we found out there was five, and then we found out there's a little brother — six — and then it just kept on growing from there."
Terri “definitely” believes that it was her calling to care for these kids, saying that “God just gave me a sensitive heart for children.”
“We've seen so much neglect, physical abuse, verbal abuse, malnourishment. These kids didn't ask to be put into the situations that they were put into. It's not the kids’ fault. They didn't ask to be born into that kind of a family lifestyle.”
According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 690,000 kids nationwide were in foster care in 2017, bouncing between state homes and foster families for an average of two years.
The now Hawthorn sibling group of seven were separated and continuously uprooted around the foster system for three years before getting adopted.
Layna, 11, said she remembers calling the Hawthorns “mom” and “dad” on her second day with them.
“They felt like an actual mom and dad; they were caring and loveable,” she said.
Dawson, the eldest of the clan at 15, lived with his biological parents the longest.
“You'd always worried about food... you wondered what would happen when you got home,” Dawson said of his life before the Hawthorns. “I'm just glad it's over… I was upset a lot. I would go to sleep praying that, like, stuff would change.”
Dawson said being adopted was an answer to his prayers.
“They're probably the best parents I could've asked for. They're just really nice and they're kind. .... And I don't see any other parent taking in this many kids, and the little ones they adopted, and having four children of their own, being at their age.”
Kyndal, 12, said she loves her permanent home and, in a way, is “glad” she and her siblings went into foster care “because I would’ve never met [the Hawthorns] if I didn’t."
“When I first got into foster care [it was] the first time I've ever slept in a bed,” she said. Before that, she and her sisters said they would sleep on top of piles of clothes, on the floor, or in a closet.
For the siblings, it’s not just about the beds or the food.
“No. We have someone to love us and to take care of us,” Kyndal said.
The admiration is mutual.
“These kids are all survivors. People our age and other people have never gone through as much as these kids had experienced. For what they've been through, you know, they're amazing,” gushed their mother.
Micah, 21, is the Hawthorns' youngest biological child. She said it didn’t surprise her that her parents decided to take in so many foster kids.
“It was more surprising of hearing their stories, and at a young age, really changed my life, and made me realize how, you know, grateful and blessed I've been," she shared. It also highlighted she was “lucky enough to grow up with a family that loved me, and have a roof over my head, and you know, all these things that I take for granted that I don't even realize.”
An actress since early adolescence, Micah was just weeks shy of moving to Hollywood for pilot season when her parents brought her into their conversation of adopting foster children.
“I remember the day so clearly. We came and sat down at our kitchen table, and they were just like, ‘You know, this is a really big commitment,’” she said. “’It's a big commitment for this many children, and it's an even bigger commitment with their behavior issues. If you want to support us and do all this, then we're ready to fight for them. But if not, we know how much you've wanted this career, we respect you and we're gonna support you to pursue it.’”
She said she knew “right then” what she would do. “It was hard to give up acting, of course, but I didn't have to go sit and pray about it or think about it."
“In that industry, it’s not a for-sure that I’ll make it. But what was a guarantee was knowing that I could stay at home, and give nine kids a mom and dad, help them be together, and have a family that loves them.”
Her mom acknowledges the decision was a “major sacrifice.”
“I couldn't do it without her. It's amazing. I mean, the children just adore her... She's just genuine… I'm very blessed. She's wonderful.”
Even cousin Jessica Hawthorn jumped in to help, organizing a GoFundMe for the family in Arkansas.
But not all of the Hawthorns' grown children were as quickly convinced as their sister Micah.
“I was just thinking that my parents are old grandparents and they’re gonna have all these babies. So I was just thinking of the kids that I'm going to be taking care of," joked Jordan Hawthorn, 25.
“Having kids of my own, it was a little bit of a different perspective,” added Blake Hawthorn, 29. “Kind of a selfish perspective, like, ‘Hey, I want them to be able to have grandparents, you know, and now here they are about to take on more kids of their own’ type of thing. And then the more that I just prayed about it, and kind of having a reality check... we've had a wonderful life. My kids are going to have a wonderful life. And why not let these awesome kids have the same opportunity. And so after kind of that heart check, it was definitely a change in perspective and got us on board to join them.”