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Habitat family story receives more attention

In our last blog we told the story of Donna King providing a home for her great-nieces and nephews. Well, word is getting around and on Christmas the Charleston Daily Mail published a front page story on the family. Here it is.

After five kids were living in a van, extended family found a home for the holidays by Kelly L. Holleran Daily Mail staff

It broke Donna King’s heart to see her five great-nieces and nephews living in a van in St. Albans. The children were improperly fed, did not receive adequate medical care, did not go to school and, perhaps most importantly, did not have a home. They owned only the clothes on their backs, and the two youngest children wore only diapers. So when King’s niece approached her to ask if she could take in her now 10-year-old daughter, Tiaonna Payne, King, 52, quickly agreed.

Within the next couple of days, King’s niece asked her to care for her other four children. She was struggling and really needed someone to care for them, King said. King, who has two grown sons and several grandchildren, gladly welcomed all the children into her home, even though she lived in a two-bedroom trailer.

She gave up her bedroom. The boys had one room and the girls had the other. King slept on the couch. She also had to give up her night job delivering bundles of Charleston newspapers to carriers. She could no longer work all night while the children were at home.

Money still came in, but it was tight. King currently makes $460 a month to help support the children. She also gets a $365 check each month because one of the boys has a disability. She gets $290 a month because the father of her 29-year-old son is paying back child support that he did not pay while her son was growing up.

For a while, just getting the children bathed was a struggle. The hot water tank at the trailer was very small, and water quickly became cold. So King would gather the girls and have them stand under the shower together. Then King would turn off the water while she shampooed their hair. The girls would go back under the shower together to rinse. King repeated the process with the boys.

She quickly grew accustomed to the children’s routines and got attached to them. She had taken all five children in by June 2004. Later that summer, King’s niece wanted her children back. But King could not bear to let them back into the same conditions, so she fought.

She filed a petition in Kanawha Circuit Court to keep the children, and the judge granted her temporary custody, King said. Until the children’s mother is able to prove to the judge that she can provide adequate care, King is allowed to keep them, King said. She has even welcomed a new addition to her family – Mariah Fields, who is now 3 and a sister to the five children. She was born in September 2004 to King’s niece, and by January, King had gained custody of the little girl, she said.

Caring for six children is not an easy task, especially not in the area where King’s two-bedroom trailer was located. “There was a lot of drug traffic and a lot of drinking at nights,” she said. “Fights would break out. It was not a good place to raise kids.”

The kitchen in her trailer was too small for all six children and King to eat their meals together, so they would eat in shifts. The three younger children would eat at the small kitchen table together, and then the three older children would take their turn.

The inconveniences were small compared to the love the family shared. “They love people and they want to be loved,” King said of the children. “These kids give love, too. They’re the most huggable children there are.”

King already was utilizing the resources available to her from Birth through Three, a state-run program designed to assist needy families. When she learned she had a good chance of being approved for a house built by Habitat for Humanity, she rushed to sign up. King was elated when she found out she was approved for a brand-new, five-bedroom house on Jubilee Drive in South Charleston.

Every person who is approved for a Habitat for Humanity house must work at least 250 hours helping to build their house and other people’s houses, King said. But she put in far more hours than that because she enjoyed it so much. “It’s just awesome,” she said of the house and the experience. “These people are so wonderful. You wanted to be there. It wasn’t a chore at all.”

The family moved into their new house in September, and now the six children have more space. They have a huge backyard to play in. Tiaonna has her own bedroom. The two youngest girls, Tamara, 7, and Mariah, now 3, share a bedroom. The two youngest boys, Bruce, 6, and Brandon, 4, share a bedroom. Nine-year-old Raymond can choose where to sleep. He usually has to sleep with someone because he is prone to nightmares, King said. Even King has her own bedroom. The fifth bedroom has been converted into a television room.

The kitchen in the new house is big enough for a large table where the family can gather and talk about their day. In fact, dinnertime seems to be the best time of day for the children, King said. “They like to discuss what good things happened during the day, what bad things happened, how they could fix those things,” she said. “As soon as they start eating, they want to talk about their day.”

The children and King also go to Maranatha Fellowship Church, a non-denominational church in St. Albans. They attend services every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. King attributes her ability to get her new house to God. “It’s all through God’s mercy,” she said.

When Diana Sole, president of MotionMasters in Charleston, heard the family’s story, she decided she wanted to feature them in her company’s Christmas card.

Sole has been actively involved in Habitat for Humanity for nearly 20 years and heard King’s story in October, when the Habitat for Humanity board was discussing which family to profile in its annual holiday letter. Sole wanted to tell the family’s story through video instead of words.

After getting Habitat’s approval, MotionMasters filmed a profile of King and her family, and Habitat sent out DVDs for Christmas. MotionMasters also sent it out as its Christmas card. Overall, about 5,000 people should have received a copy.

Although officials say they’re not sure what sort of financial impact the video has had on Habitat for Humanity, people seem to enjoy it. “I’ve had a lot of people stop me at Rotary or Christmas parties that have just been overwhelmed with the story,” Sole said.

Jennifer Hudson, director of development for Habitat for Humanity, said it has opened people’s eyes. “We’ve had quite a few phone calls,” she said. “It certainly opened people’s eyes that things like that happen in our own community and we’re not even aware of it. Things do happen. It’s about opening people’s eyes to that, whether it be financially, volunteering their time. It takes a community to build a community.”

King said she’s very grateful for the help and can’t say thank you enough to all the people who have been of assistance. “I want to thank anyone that has ever helped with these kids – churches, schools, a lot of these people have really given and helped,” she said.

The crew at Habitat and Motion Masters said King and her family deserve only the best. “There is a special place in heaven reserved for her and her kids,” Sole said.

Contact writer Kelly Holleran at or 348-1796.

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