Margaret and Lester Hunt may not have enough room at their dinner table but there's plenty of room in their hearts.
Although their table won't seat seven, the Hunts are adopting five lively young boys. James, 13, and Lee, 12, are siblings from Juneau who have lived in the Hunt home since June 7, 2000. Alex, 12, Lester Allen, 11, and Bobby Rae, 10, are brothers from Texas who arrived June 11, 2001.
The five tend to assemble at Margaret's feet like littermates, bent over drawing projects or playing cards or chess. The household's three dachshunds scramble among them.
"The kids need to belong someplace," said Lester Hunt, taking a break from his job at Bear Body Works. "They need a place they can call home and to have a mom and dad that will be there when they need them."
During the summer, Hunt works as a paving equipment operator with Secon Inc. The couple has lived in Juneau for 13 years, and has an older son, Lester Allen Jr., 18, who is completing Army basic training in Georgia this week, and an older daughter, Dawn, 23, who works for the state and KINY Radio.
Mom and Dad, you have given me a life and a family to care about.
You have given me tasty food to eat.
And you have taught me from right and wrong.
And given me a warm bed to sleep in
And clothes to wear
And cool toys, and caring for me.
And being there when I need you.
Thank you for giving me a cozy house to live in
And playing games with me.
I like your being my Mom and Dad.
I just need to say thank you for it all.
Love, Allen (11)
Margaret underwent lower back surgery a year ago. Then, July 31 - the day before Lester Allen Jr. left for basic training - the vehicle she was driving was hit by a semi-trailer, crushing her spinal cord. She had her neck fused recently, and will take three months to heal. Meanwhile, she has plenty of willing lifters to help with the housework.
In her enthusiasm for adoption, Hunt is undeterred by mere aches and pains. "President Bush said 130,000 kids in the U.S. need a home. Our philosophy is, 'Look in your own backyard before you go somewhere else.' "
The Hunts "practiced" for adopting by serving as foster parents since 1992. In 1997, they opened Southeast Alaska's first emergency, on-call foster home.
"I would get calls at 3 o'clock in the morning, like, 'I'm bringing over two kids and they have head lice,' " she said with a belly laugh. She estimates over 200 children passed through, many of whom keep in touch.
In order to adopt from Texas, the Hunts were required to be licensed foster parents. However, as soon as the adoptions become final, they will surrender the foster parent role.
The couple hopes the adoptions will be finalized before Christmas.
"You have to go through the politics (between states), and it gets very sticky at times," Margaret Hunt said.
"It's likely that the adoptions will be finalized by the first of the year," said Natalie Powers, unit supervisor in the Juneau field office of the state Division of Family and Youth Services. "We fully support Margaret. She is a fabulous foster parent, and it's wonderful she is opening up her home to five boys."
The cost of domestic adoption is less than from a foreign country, Margaret said. "The federal government gives you $2,000 in the state of Alaska for any non-recurring fees. Texas gives $1,500 per child for attorney's fees and home studies."
It's been a long, bumpy road to permanent placement for both groups of boys. The Texas boys wound up in foster care five years ago when their mother died and their stepfather declined to care for them. They were separated from one another, and placed in five different foster homes. Even when they were advertised on television, no family came forward.
The Hunts found them on the Internet site Faces of Adoption, where over 3,000 kids are listed.
"As we were scrolling through, I was crying," Margaret said. "We chose these three. Then we asked our older boy to scroll through, without giving him any clues, and he chose these same boys. Our daughter did this, too. If that isn't God having his hand in something, I don't know what is."
The road for James and Lee was similarly rough.
"They were first placed with us as foster kids," said Margaret. "Then went to other foster homes. Then to their mom. Then to another foster home. Then to the aunt's. Then to mom's. Then back to the aunt. Back to mom."
A year and a half ago they visited the Hunts for an overnight stay - and never left. "I called DFYS and said, 'We're keeping them,' " Margaret said.
The Texas brothers have a closed adoption. That is, birth relatives will not be informed where they have been placed. The Alaska boys have an open adoption.
"Their mom has no problem calling me," said Margaret. "We have good communication, and I want to keep it that way."
"This is our first real Christmas," said Bobby, a frail boy huddled in a knot on the couch. Margaret said he had not grown for the last two years in Texas, but was starting to put on weight and height.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.