ZILLAH — While the inside of Eugene and Margarita ‘Maggie’ Dawson’s home was brimming with holiday cheer, the outside of their house was buzzing with its own activity – a full extension of their home to accommodate their adopted nieces and nephews.

Maggie’s cozy welcome was also greeted with the peeking eyes of her 3-year-old, Delilah, from the hallway doorframe and soon, the five nieces and nephew that still reside in the house also filed into the living room, as bright as the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree.

Recently, the Dawson family was honored by Fourth District Rep. Dan Newhouse for being Angels in Adoption, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute program that honors families, individuals, and organizations making extraordinary contributions to adoption, permanency, and welfare.

After the tragic death of Maggie’s sister-in-law, Maria Gonzalez-Castillo, Maggie and Eugene didn’t hesitate to house then ultimately gain custody of her nieces and nephews.

“When I took them on, my daughter was two months, and I never, never in my life would have imagined being able to do this. I knew that I could handle whatever God put in front of me regardless,” the 38-year-old mother of two expressed.

Maggie explained with a laugh bubbling in her voice how overwhelming it must seem to strangers when they hear of her and her family’s story. For Maggie and Eugene, however, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

She recalled talking with her husband about taking on the brood – whose ages ranged from infancy to young adults at the time – and told him they would have to pray and ask God if it was something they could handle.

“If it’s something we could handle, then of course, we would just have to put it in the hands of our Lord and move forward.”

Moving forward, they certainly did.

In the beginning of their journey, the Dawson family’s house became a revolving door of legal representatives and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Maggie did not let the mountain of legal avenues shake her resolve. She wanted to honor the children and honor their mother in ensuring a safe and nurturing home where they could all be together.

“I asked the older ones what would make them happy,” Maggie said. She explained what might happen if the children were put into foster homes.

The family unit of children had decided to stay together, and the Dawson family were legally granted custody of seven of the eight children. Three of the eight children – Manuel, Mireya, and Jesus – are adults and now live separately from the Dawson family house.

“Transition? Oh, I just treat it like boot camp,” Eugene, the former military man, said while America Alejandre, the Zillah High School senior laughed. Jaime Jr., 16, explained how getting used to the rules the Dawson’s had regarding cell phones being put away by nine, cooking dinners for the family, and ensuring their schoolwork was a priority was an adjustment.

“It’s been hard with the rules and stuff, but I’ve got the hang of it,” Jaime shared as he picked up scraps of wood with sisters America, 18, and Victoria, 8, from the construction site.

The construction of their expansion is due to the family being chosen by Habitat for Humanity (HFH) as a community-based project.

Executive Director Meloney Rosen described how the nonprofit organization was able to help the family as HFH typically build new homes on land they own for first time homebuyers.

“I went to the board and said, ‘Clearly, they don’t meet our project requirements, they already have their home. They’re asking us to do an addition that’s actually the same size as a whole home that we’d do. But I feel like this project certainly warrants our consideration and we could use it as a community project.’”

America, Jaime, and Victoria took pause to look at the foundation layout and the bare bones of what would be bedrooms for them after they had finished their job helping Eugene.

Victoria pointed out where stairs would be installed while America and Jaime gazed ahead, admiring in a quiet awe on a still, December afternoon.

“I haven’t seen it this far, they’ve done a lot,” America murmured.

As the young adults returned to the warmth of the hearth, Maggie watched with love. She intimated, “This is very overwhelming for all of us, and I always tell the kids, it’s honoring their mother and making sure that she would be proud to see where they’re going. Not where they were, it’s where they’re going.”

Elizabeth Sustaita can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 114 or email esustaita@sunnysidesun.com.

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