Then the 40-year-old preacher's wife and mother of two heard a voice, which told her to adopt. "It was like 'Stop your whining, think about the children that did not have a mother what you had, give back to them.'"
Donna told her sister Diane Sparks about the revelation.
She said "'We have to do this thing together. God gave it to me but we're gonna do it together.'"
So they did. Dianne adopted Nino, and shortly after, Donna and her husband adopted Mercedes.
Maybe because those two kids are cute, or because Reverend Martin talked it up in church, or because people in Center are just a lot kinder than most. For whatever reason – that desire to make a difference started spreading across this small town like good gossip.
First Theresa Lathan adopted some kids. Then the Daniels did, and the Boltons too. Robbie Garret adopted, as did Deborah Cartwright – and her three sisters. Grandma Cartwright has 11 new adopted grandchildren to remember, and 11 new mouths to feed at Sunday dinner.
"They're willing to share what they have," says Anne Hobbs, one of the overwhelmed social workers assigned to handle all these new cases. "They're willing to work extra hours. They're willing to take second jobs so they can do this."
So far, 26 families in this area have adopted more than 70 children. "That's a pretty phenomenal number of people who want to say, 'Send me in coach. I want to help these children.'" Says Hobbs.
But these were not those perfect babies that parents wait years to adopt. These were the kids who wait years to be adopted. They had been abandoned, abused, had virtually no social skills. Many of them had already been shuttled from foster home to foster home.
Johnnie Brown and her husband Fred had three grown boys and were already grandparents when they adopted triplets. "They want to have my brain checked," she jokes.
"I wanted to feel like I was doing something to make a change, a difference in somebody's life," she says.
Fred, who was going to retire, still puts in 15-hour days to pay expenses. Although for the Browns, and most of the families, money wasn't the hard part.
"They were just totally wild," says Johnnie of her new kids. "They would take their forks and beat on top of their heads, beat the table. They couldn't sit in chairs, I had to teach them everything."
Johnnie says that every day last year, teachers called to complain daily; Sometimes they would call twice a day. But this year, there have been no calls. That was last year. So far this year there have been no calls.
"I have cried so many tears but I just knew if I kept it up that it was gonna make a difference one day and it has," Johnnie says. "It almost brings tears to my eyes just looking at the difference it's made in them."
That kid of commitment is as common as crayons around here. Normally you can expect a certain percentage of kids to be returned to the foster system – but in Center, no one has backed out. Hobbs says that is very unusual.
"I believe that this is my purpose," says Donna Martin.
"It's very rewarding and satisfying to see these children who have been more or less thrown away, to be able to grow up in... they know who their child's grandmother will be," says Hobbs.
Whether or not it really was God who brought them all together, this is undoubtedly a match made in heaven.
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