Florida Couple Welcomes 6 Children Into Their Home in One Year: 'We Are a Family Through and Through'
"They will always be together now," Kenley Stringer tells PEOPLE
In the span of one year, Kenley and Calyn Stringer added six children to their family – and the loving parents couldn’t be happier.
Since November 2014, the couple has welcomed 6-month-old biological son Benjamin, as well as adopted siblings Eric, 7, Dale, 5, Brittan, 3, Maya, 2, and Kiki, 1, into their Tallahassee, Florida, home.
“This year has been intense and so amazing!” Calyn Stringer, 30, tells PEOPLE. “I need a couple cups of coffee every morning trying to get all our kids up, ready breakfast and to school. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Kenley and Calyn felt it was important to keep all of the brothers and sisters together and insisted on bringing all five into their new forever home.
“They will always be together now,” Kenley Stringer, 33, tells PEOPLE. “We all will.”
The couple says plans for sibling adoption had been in the works since they got together.
“When we got married in 2010, we asked guests to donate to an adoption fund for us instead of bringing wedding gifts,” says the devoted father. “We knew from the get-go we wanted to grow our family through adoption. We knew we wanted to keep a group of brothers and sisters together.”
A year after Kenley and Calyn tied the knot, they began researching different adoption methods.
“We looked at public, private and international agencies,” Kenley, a real estate agent, says. “We tried so hard to make it work, but it never came together. At one point, I was enroute to Uganda to meet a family that was considering us when we learned of immigration ability complications with the children we had matched with.”
But the Florida couple kept pushing – they knew their forever children were out there.
In November 2014, Calyn became pregnant with now 6-month-old Benjamin. And only a few weeks later, the couple became aware of five siblings in a nearby Florida town who were in need of a forever home.
“We learned through an online foster support group that there were siblings from one mother who wanted to voluntarily relinquish her parental rights before the state forcibly terminated rights,” says Kenley. “A dozen families put their hats in the ring, but we got a call a few days later.”
The adoring dad adds, “It was fate.”
Within days, the couple was granted custody of four of the five Floridian children, and the kids moved into the Stringer house a week before Christmas.
It was “the ultimate Christmas miracle.”
“Sometimes we think what life would be like if we hadn’t adopted our kids,” Calyn, an ESL instructor at Florida State University says. “The thought of not having them is so sad. It’s frightening to think where they might have ended up.”
Kenley says the first interaction with his eldest adopted son, Eric, was “nothing like [he] had imagined.”
“When I first met Eric, I asked him ‘How do you feel about coming to live with us and being a part of our family?’ ” he says. “His answer was so simple and honest, all he said was ‘Good.’ It was so clear to me this was meant to be, that he felt comfortable with me. I thought it would have been more difficult!”
The father of six says he was nervous the kids wouldn’t connect with him because they’d never had a father figure in their life before.
“I didn’t know how they would react to me, but the transition was seamless and my life has been so much better with them in the picture,” he says. “There was no big learning curve and it never felt like either one of us was outsiders. They moved right in and it was their home from the start.”
When Calyn gave birth to Benjamin in June of 2015, the kids were “ecstatic” to have an addition to the clan.
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But the parents knew their blended family was not yet complete – their kids’ fifth and youngest sibling, Kiki, was still in foster care.
“The kids would always ask about their sister Kiki, and we were never able to give them an answer – we were fighting to get her into our family at the time,” says Kenley. “And we couldn’t give up.”
In August 2015, when Benjamin was only one month old, Kiki finally joined her brothers and sisters in the Tallahassee household – perfecting the Stringer family.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we are a family through and through,” says Kenley. “It’s rewarding seeing how every member of our family loves and supports each other every single day.”