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The Power of People

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THE JACKSONS ADOPTIVE PARENTS

How do they do it? That was the question most readers asked when they read about Mary-Jo and Michael Jackson in our Sept. 22, 2003, issue. After having seven children of their own, the Lancaster, Pa., couple had adopted 13 more and were legal guardians to two others. The Jacksons specialized in adopting children who had disabilities or were too old for most prospective parents.

One North Carolina reader went so far as to call the Jacksons at home. She and her husband had been having problems controlling their adopted Vietnamese daughter, whose hands and feet were malformed at birth. The headstrong little girl had spent most of her seven years in a Ho Chi Minh City orphanage, sequestered with other handicapped kids.

Mary-Jo, 53, asked the mother how she could help. Within seconds, however, the other mom confessed that the child’s behavior was so disruptive that other family members were suffering and they wanted to terminate the adoption. She asked if the Jacksons were interested in taking in another child.

After weeks of communication by phone and e-mail, the family brought the child to Lancaster last October. The Jacksons are currently the legal guardians of the girl, whom they have renamed Josie, and they should secure the adoption within months. “I’m just jaded enough to keep my eyes open for possible pitfalls in the road ahead and not let myself get complacent,” says Mary-Jo. “Josie is a tough kid. But underneath it all, she really, really wants to belong.”

Jeanne GINDER: AIDS ACTIVIST RYAN WHITE’S MOTHER

Ryan White appeared on our cover three times, first to illustrate our Aug. 3,1987, story on how America was confronting AIDS. The 15-year-old hemophiliac, who had contracted the disease from tainted blood-clotting products, had been kicked out of the public school in Kokomo, Ind. He and his divorced mother, Jeanne, had recently won a yearlong court battle to have him reinstated. In subsequent years, Ryan would become a symbol of AIDS patients’ struggle simply to lead a normal life. He made numerous television appearances and even appeared in concert with Elton John, who was one of his many celebrity friends. Both Ryan and his family appreciated PEOPLE’S part in making his battles known to the world. As he lay dying in 1990, he allowed only two journalists to enter his hospital room—PEOPLE correspondent Bill Shaw and photographer Taro Yamasaki. “PEOPLE magazine respected us,” Jeanne says. “I think Ryan just represented everybody with AIDS. He wanted to say, ‘Let’s make it a disease and not a dirty word.’ ”

Jeanne, who now lives in Leesburg, Fla., with husband Roy Ginder, continues to work to increase AIDS awareness, giving speeches at conferences and schools. After Ryan’s death, she says, strangers would stop by the family home asking to see his room, which she’d left intact. When she moved to Florida, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis offered to archive the room’s contents. The museum plans to re-create Ryan’s room as the centerpiece of an exhibit to be called “The Power of Children.”

EMME PLUS-SIZE MODEL

Once, plus-size model Emme was relegated to catalog and department-store work. By the mid-’90s the size 14 mannequin blossomed on a Times Square billboard in all her 5’11”, 180-lb. glory. She credits the phenomenal shift to her appearance (tastefully nude) in the 1994 edition of our 50 Most Beautiful People issue (May 9). “It was the first time a full-figured woman was considered beautiful in America,” says Emme. “I was like, ‘What does this mean?’ ”

For starters, it meant that the 30-year-old’s day rate tripled to $4,000 and that she began modeling high-end product. Later came a show on E!, two books, an eponymous clothing line and even an Emme doll. “The PEOPLE story,” says Emme, who was born Melissa Miller, “tapped into what was going on. Women were struggling to fit this unattainable ideal.” The Syracuse University graduate has used her celebrity to speak to teens about the dangers of waif worship. Her message: It’s not about the size of our bodies, but about who we are. At home in Bergen County, N. J., Emme is currently dealing with an image change of her own. She hasn’t lost all the weight she gained when pregnant with her first child, Toby Cole, 2, with husband and manager Phil Aronson. “Man, I’m more curvy,” she says of the extra 20 lbs. “But I’m not beating myself up. I have a sweet sense of acceptance.”

Jesse ENGLANDER: TEEN CAREGIVER

His eyes well up with tears as he flips through the five pages of names. They’re the names of strangers—more than 250 of them—who sent donations to the Brooklyn boy when his mother died of multiple sclerosis days after the publication of our July 2002 story “Heroes at Home,” which profiled teens who take care of seriously ill single parents by themselves. The contributions added up to $25,000 and ranged from a $5,000 check to five single-dollar bills.

Englander, 16, had been taking care not only of his mother but also his 85-year-old grandmother, who suffers from kidney disease. He has used the donations for school supplies, home repairs and a cell phone so his grandmother can call him in case of an emergency. (He now has two part-time jobs but admits he sometimes splurges on sneakers.) Some readers contributed more than just money. One helped his grandmother arrange to have Medicaid pay for a nurse’s aide during the week, providing a reprieve for the boy. “Before, it was just me, my mom and Grandma,” says Englander. “Now it’s hundreds of people I don’t even know.”