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Rick and Danielle Mendenhall and their two children expand their family by three; Skype adoption today

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

As a youngster growing up with a single mom and three sisters, Danielle Mendenhall knew she wanted to adopt children one day. Her mom was an advocate for foster care and instilled in her daughters a deep caring for children who needed a loving home.

So when Danielle met Rick, she made it clear that if they were going to have a relationship, he too would have to agree that adoption would be in their future. It wasn’t a hard sell.

Fast forward to a move from Sedona, Arizona, five years ago to Northern Kentucky for Rick and Danielle and their two biological children, Luke, now 14, and Naomi, now 13. Rick had taken a job with Answers in Genesis as AV program manager for the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. Danielle found a work home at the R.C. Durr YMCA in Florence as gymnastics and enrichment coordinator.

Settled into their new home, it was time to move ahead with their “mission” – to start the process to adopt siblings into their home. They signed up with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Service’s Department for Community Based Services. Their journey began with 10 weeks of 4-hour training sessions, moved through a home inspection, background checks and meetings with social workers. Even with licenses to foster children, training is on-going. The Mendenhalls are an “adoptive only placement family.”

Rick and Danielle with their children Luke, Caleb, Rhiannon, Naomi, and Jayden.

This morning, via Skype, Danielle and Rick Mendenhall will grow their family by three as Boone County Family Court Judge Linda Bramlage approves their adoption of Jayden, 15, and Rhiannon, 8, his half-sister, and of Caleb, 12. Their two children will be there to celebrate as will their attorney, Susanne Cetrulo.

Jayden, Caleb, and Rhiannon have been living with the Mendenhall family for three years, but the complexity of their cases slowed down the process of making them “official.” Today, there is real cause for celebration.

“It wasn’t easy, but it matters,” said Danielle. “We kept saying ‘where can we do the most good?’ – and as we talked to our two kids about adoption, they have become big advocates as well.”

Jayden and Rhiannon have been in foster homes since each were 2 years old. Most of the time, they were placed together – but they remember vividly the one time they were separated for six weeks. Danielle says they still remember the pain of that time – and it simply reinforces the Mendenhall’s commitment to sibling adoption. The children were moved around frequently and went to a different school every few months.

Caleb is the middle child of another family; his two siblings were placed together but that family couldn’t handle Caleb. Over his young life, he had been placed 28 times in a foster home and 4 times with an adoptive family. He had been in the system for 10 years, and he had been abused.

“I keep thinking ‘who could this kid have been’ if life had been fairer for him?” Danielle says. “Of course, he can be angry and have behavior problems. Who wouldn’t?

Rick and Danielle Mendenhall asked: How can we do the most good?

“And of course, Jayden is behind in school – and working very hard every day to catch up. We had to teach him how to learn in the first place. Who wouldn’t need help after having so many strikes against him?”

“Rhiannon is a goofy, happy girl,” Danielle says. “She has a big personality and is a lot of fun.”

They’ll join with their new siblings as a family – and as advocates for adoption and caring about all kids who need a home. They are learning from the Mendenhalls how “to help themselves and to help others.”

The family has recently moved to a much larger home in Boone County. It comes with two acres and a creek. It also has an extra bedroom that the kids have been fixing up for the next kids who will join their family.

Yes, as soon as the ink is dry on the adoption papers today, the whole family has decided it’s time to adopt again. Other kids need a loving home.

The Mendenhalls homeschool the children, and they can’t say enough about how loving and supportive their “community” at First Church of Christ in Burlington and Durr YMCA have been, as well as Answers in Genesis.

“These wonderful people have helped us and prayed with us every step of the way,” said Danielle. “They have helped us do hard things.”

They are also joining in to do the fun thing — a parade of cars doing social distancing celebration of the new family next Saturday. The drive-by celebration parade will be from 6-7 p.m.

The Happy Mendenhalls.

Celebration attire.

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