A little less than a week from today, Penni Stonebrink is getting one of the all-time top Mother’s Day gifts — her family is growing with the addition of five children. Penni and her husband Arnold will finalize the adoption of a sibling group, adding to the 11 young people who already call them parents.
The Stonebrink children range in age from 2 to 29, half live away from the family home in Payson, though make frequent return visits that can last for a few days to several weeks.
The Stonebrinks came to the Rim Country in May 2003. A year later, the couple began the process to become foster parents.
“Our son Nick was in the third-grade and came home upset because one of his friends was moving,” Penni said. The friend had been adopted and was moving to join his new family. Nick asked his mother why they couldn’t do something like that and Penni said she told him there wasn’t any reason.
“I went down to DES and got the paperwork,” she said.
“The folder sat on the counter for months, but then the subject came up again and we decided to go forward with it.”
The Stonebrinks were certified as foster parents in 2004, and within a month, opened their home to a sibling group of six children. Since then, 26 children have come into their home for various lengths of time.
“We usually have them for longer than most, and have larger sibling and family groups,” Penni said.
“It has been a very good experience for the children to be around foster kids. It has taught them to be grateful.”
Shortly after getting their license for foster care, the couple began the paperwork to be certified for adoption.
The family they are adopting came to them in 2007, when the youngest, Lincoln, was only 2 months old. The work on the adoption started in early 2008.
The process was not adversarial; everyone wanted to make sure the five children stayed together, Penni said.
Even though the Stonebrink family is growing, their home will remain open to children in need of temporary or long-term shelter.
They have tried to add on to their home to make it more accommodating, but have not been allowed to do so by the town, Penni said. However, they have converted a game room to a bedroom and at one point, had turned the den into a bedroom as well, but it has since reverted to its original use.
“We’re fortunate it is an older home with bigger rooms, but small bathrooms, which makes mornings really exciting,” she said.
“I have an entire storage room filled with beds,” Penni said. She has all sizes because she doesn’t know when she will need a crib or a toddler bed. They have to be readily available and quick and easy to set up because when a call for help is made, it may be needed immediately.
“I think Arn and I are perfect for this. I have a degree in early childhood education and development. Arn is a teacher and coach and really great dad. He does stuff around the house, he’s not just window dressing.”
All the children are busy and involved in lots of activities.
“I counted up and we had seven softball games this week,” Penni said. The children are in karate and dance classes, Scouts and church projects. Some have special needs, which involves other activities. Others participate in the teen court program, Big Brothers Big Sisters and youth Rotary.
All of the children have household responsibilities, too. Each of the older youngsters, those 7 and up, are assigned to be a kitchen helper one day a week and they all know how to cook.
“All of the older girls love to be in the kitchen,” Penni said. “They like to get in there and make cookies.”
Scheduling is a big issue, she said. As soon as she knows everyone’s schedules, they all go in her planning book.
So, Penni knows when she can take on extra projects. Currently she is working to start a clothing bank for the area’s foster, adoptive and kinship families.
“The state only gives us $75 every six months for a child’s clothing allowance. A cheap pair of shoes is $15. In the winter it’s $30 for a coat.”
She hopes to turn the project over to a Scout for an Eagle project in the near future.
In the meantime, Penni is looking forward to one of the best Mother’s Days in her life by adding five children to her family and looking forward to more.
She is a mother whose love knows no measure.