08/12/18 — Haven of love

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Haven of love

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 12, 2018 3:05 AM

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Ellia, 11, and several of the kids help Jenny Millard fold a load of laundry in the family's living room.

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Jimmy Millard, right, serves the children breakfast Thursday morning, offering an option of eggs or oatmeal.

Jimmy and Jenny Millard created a blended family when they married: Jimmy brought two children and Jenny three biological children to their home.

What makes the family unique, though, is that Jenny actually was a single mother of 21: her three and 18 adopted children, all with special needs.

The result for most days is that the Millards are on a mission before even stepping out of their house.

As an example, it's 9 a.m. on a Wednesday and Jimmy, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Pikeville, is delayed because of vehicle trouble. So Jenny find herself handling parenting duties alone.

There is a pile of clean laundry on a chair waiting to be folded, as she prepares to do another load.

She checks to see which children have eaten breakfast, which are dressed and which still need a shower.

A brisk trip through the living room, she surveys the situation, finger pointed as she silently does a head count.

"I'm sorry, if I miss a beat," she says, her voice trailing off as she breezes through the kitchen. "I have to get to a certain point."

That point did not include combing her hair, applying makeup or taking a shower.

"I'm the last one to take a shower," she said. "I just had to make sure all the medicines are taken."

"It takes all of us," said Jimmy, arriving just in time to give his wife a reprieve so she can grab that shower.

A plaque over the doorway provides a hint of how they accomplish this: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

"Jeremy has severe autism, he's 11. Angelina is 12. Ellia, 11, has an unknown genetic disorder -- not even Duke (Hospital) knows what it is but she will not grow any more," Jenny says, rattling off a cursory list that includes the 16 children still living at home. "Nicholas is 11. Noah is 13. Oksana -- she's the baby of the family. She's 11. Nideya will be 18 in a month. She's already started at early college. Samuel will be 17 in another month. Emma is 12.

"Benjamin and Joshua are in respite care out of state. James, 15, he's in Boston visiting my parents, and then we have Elijah. He's 20, also visiting my parents. Noel is 14. She's visiting our oldest son, 30. Amelia is 17. Sophia is 22 -- both of them were from really bad orphanages, very neglectful. Sophia was 16 years old, weighing 14 pounds, in Bulgaria, and Amelia was 11 years old, weighing 10 pounds. They're still very much like babies. Andrew is 11, and Ian is 12."


The couple have only been married a year and celebrates their first anniversary on Aug. 27.

Nothing about their situation has been traditional.

They met three years ago, when she was buying cattle from Jimmy.

He was admittedly skeptical when he learned she was a single mom of 21, thinking that could be a ploy to get a deal on the cows. She had her own doubts upon discovering his wife of 30 years was terminally ill with cancer, hoping it was not true and that he was simply playing on her sympathies to bring the price down.

Both were wrong, which he soon discovered when he delivered the cows to Jenny, then living in Louisburg.

"There were children everywhere," he said. "She's the most amazing person to be sure."

When Jenny, a registered nurse, realized Jimmy's then-wife Leslie was battling cancer, she offered to come one day a week to care for her. At no charge.

"I hadn't had friends in so long," she said, thankful for the time the two women shared until Leslie's passing.

The couple's mutual pain -- Jenny's former husband of 17 years had suffered a debilitating brain injury -- blossomed into a relationship.

"We kind of built a friendship and just leaned on each other," she said.

"You learn what's really important," Jimmy said.

Things like sick children, he says.

"One has severe autism, there are two with wheelchairs, three with feeding tubes, five with Down syndrome," he said. "All of them have a background."

And each of them needed loving parents, which prompted them to wed.

They turned their home into a haven of sorts -- the garage converted into a "dorm" for the boys and a 15-passenger van to accommodate the large family.

Another factor prompting the move into Jimmy's Pikeville home was a very special school, they said.

"The reason that we're in this house right now is Edgewood School. Edgewood has been a blessing -- all the children were in the school last year for the first time ever. One has aged out now, she's 21 -- but Sophia, she got to go to the prom," Jimmy said, his voice cracking at the recollection that their daughter experienced the rite of passage.

That is even more poignant when considering how some of the young lives started out.

"She (Jenny) adopted her when (Sophia) was only 16, only weighed 14 pounds," Jimmy said. "Nick was in hospice when they picked him up -- they said he'd never make it across the ocean (from the Ukraine)."

Jenny's heart for these special needs children started when she was around the same age that Sophia had been at the orphanage.

At 16, Jenny was working in a maternity ward when she overheard a couple arguing. They had a baby with Down syndrome and were both "career people" whose lives would have been inconvenienced, she said.

"I heard them saying, 'We cannot take this baby home' and I inquired into why they couldn't take the baby home," she said. "Me being 16, 17 years old, that's when your brain starts taking things in.

"That began a burden in my heart."


In some ways, it changed the course of her life. She adopted Nideya at age 4 and offers to replicate that kept coming. She wound up adopting both stateside and 10 internationally -- six from Ukraine and four from Bulgaria.

It is definitely a challenge, the couple says.

"Can you guess how much shampoo we go through, or laundry detergent?" Jimmy asked. "There's not a choice. You have to have a washing machine and toilet paper and paper towels.

"We use a lot of paper products, not because we don't want to wash dishes but because of the water going down the drain. You've got 18 baths a day."

Paper products are just one shortcut, especially considering things can break down and every week it seems a vehicle needs a new tire or an oil change, her husband said.


The picture of their life together is not unique, to say the least.

But their faith is their greatest foundation.

Jenny says she is grateful to have a helpmate sharing the responsibilities of raising the children, along with caregivers who support and assist.

And for Jimmy, everything he is doing is in line with what he's been preaching for years.

"Love everybody, treat everybody good, because we might not make it to tomorrow," he said. "Jesus said if we're going to come to Him, we're going to come with the heart of a child -- that's exactly what this means."

Their situation has even contributed to an anticipated new direction in careers.

"I'm changing my ministry," Jimmy said. "I have asked the church to find another pastor. We're putting together a pastor's retreat in Virginia. God's given us 100 acres up there. Eventually, we'll move that way.

"Our vision is to minister to ministers. The divorce rate is high among those in ministry. They're so busy serving others, they don't always take time for themselves."

The Millard's lives may be consumed right now with parenting responsibilities but they still manage to carve out "date night" on a Friday evening, even if it's to pick up an ice cream cone at McDonalds.

Like the children who share their home, they don't want to be a burden to anybody.

Marge Finn, one of the caregivers who shows up nearly every day to lend support, said in many ways the Millard's are like any other family, but multiplied numerically and by needs.

"This is a good, God-fearing family," she said. "They love these children. They love each other. They do everything together.

"But they make sure these kids are all fed, that they have their medications every day."

Finn said she prayed beforehand about taking on the role that has become more like that of a "grandma."

"One of the best decisions I have ever made is to be with these kids, hearing them laugh, listening to them cry, making sure that they are all taken care of," she said.