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'Wall-to-Wall' Kids Share Spirit of Giving

December 19, 1987|BEN GARRISON | United Press International

TACOMA, Wash. — Bob and Linda Cornyn expect to have scads of gifts, a tree large enough to fill half their living room and two 25-pound turkeys to help them bring Christmas into their 33-member family "circle of love."

But they said even without a full range of holiday fixings, it would not take much to spark Christmas feelings of appreciation as their family of three biological children and 28 adopted or foster kids gather in their living room.

"It's wall-to-wall children," Linda Cornyn, 41, said a few weeks before Christmas. "I can't say the room gets bigger, but you can feel an expansion in your heart. They're just happy with knowing we care."

The Cornyns, who became a couple in high school in Taylor, Mich., said they began adopting children in 1979 when Robert, now an administrative assistant at Ft. Lewis, was stationed in Korea.

First was Angela, then 9 months, now 9 years, whose single mother could no longer afford to care for her.

Telephone Rings

In the years that followed, the couple pursued what they came to view as their mission--taking in children with disabilities or from troubled homes. Whenever the telephone rings with a plea that they take in another child, they listen.

Today, the rooms of bunk beds in their south Tacoma home are filled with 17 girls and 14 boys ranging in age from 9 months to 26 years, including children from India, Germany, Colombia and from around the United States. The Cornyns' biological children are ages 6, 16 and 22.

In fact, it was the Cornyns' openheartedness toward needy children that almost canceled their traditional Christmas last year.

Cornyn said she had given the children the choice of putting $4,000 in family funds toward adopting a child from India whose legs and arms had been twisted by polio, or spending the money on a full-fledged Christmas.

In secret ballots, Cornyn said, all of the children cast votes in favor of Royce Rakesh "Rocky" Cornyn, a 5-year-old boy who has become the household chatterbox since learning English after joining the family in February.

Rocky's Christmas with the Cornyns will be his first, as it was once for 15-year-old Micah, also an India native, and other children the Cornyns adopted as infants or from Jewish or Korean backgrounds.

But the Cornyn family did not go without Christmas last year, thanks to a multitude of gifts supplied by a local service-social club which coincidentally decided to make the family its Christmas project for the year. This Christmas should be no different.

Early in the morning, children will pester the Cornyns to get out of bed to unwrap gifts, and Robert Cornyn will "give them a hard time" by telling them how much more sleep he needs--until he finally relents by mid-morning.

Having gathered in a living room cleared of furniture, the family will begin opening Christmas presents in shifts, piling up wrapping paper in the spaces between children, taking gifts into bedrooms and moving on to the next round.

"It's like a sea of Christmas here," said Michele, 22, who bore the Cornyns' only grandchild. "The looks on the kids' faces are really excited, really animated. With so many kids around, the excitement lasts all day."

The rest of the day is punctuated by a holiday breakfast, including 18 to 20 quarts of hot chocolate and 60 to 80 doughnuts and a dinner of the two turkeys, 20 pounds of mashed potatoes and six loaves of bread stuffing.

Angela said her favorite thing on Christmas is to open presents, and after that she most likes to help her younger brothers and sisters who have disabilities open their own gifts.

But the day will cost dearly. Figuring $10 for each gift, the Cornyns will spend at least $300 to give one gift to every child. But, they said, between their savings and help from neighbors and friends, they should eke out enough.

"It is the only time we really spend a lot," Linda Cornyn said. "It's just got to be a really nice affair."

The Cornyns said they want to highlight the day they think should be a time for appreciation: for having enough to celebrate Christmas, and having each other.

"It is a time to think about others, the good things that have happened in their lives," Linda Cornyn said. "It's supposed to be a circle of love."

She said it also is a time for reassurance.

"I keep telling the children they all have a mission," she said. "Sometimes it is a little difficult to find out what it is. But it will become clear to them."

In the meantime, their home has become somewhat cramped.

With the help of a housing voucher awarded by the federal government, the Cornyns hope to celebrate Christmas next year in a 15-bedroom house--twice as large as the one in which they live--in the nearby community of Fife.

The voucher, good for about $900 a month in housing costs, was awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A $50,000 grant to remodel and refurbish the house came from the Pierce County Community Development Office.

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