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September 1, 2014

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A ‘forever family’ in time for Christmas

How one Las Vegas family made it work with 11 adopted children and is now helping others

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Steve Marcus

Judge Frank Sullivan poses with Catalina Maciel and her children after an official adoption proceeding at family court Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The family officially adopted four more children for a total of eleven children. The father is not pictured due to his position as a state investigator.

Maciel Family

Maciel children sit with their grandmother Daisy at family court Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The family officially adopted four more children for a total of eleven children. Launch slideshow »

It was a day full of adoptions in Judge Frank Sullivan’s courtroom.

Thursday was one of a few days set aside toward the end of the year by the Clark County Family Court judge for signing off on adoptions. On this occasion, the jovial Sullivan wore ruby red robes and a Santa Claus hat, and every kid who walked through the courtroom doors received a lollipop.

One family put an especially large dent in Sullivan’s candy bowl. It was the only family that showed up in two cars, including a white 12-passenger van.

Catalina Maciel stood proudly, head held high, in a royal blue suit jacket and black skirt, leading an expanding line of kin into Family Court for the third time in four years.

“Line up by age,” she said, and the family — the size of a soccer team’s starting lineup — complied with little effort or thought.

Her outfit is a tradition; it's the same one she has worn to two previous adoption ceremonies. This ceremony, though, felt more like a culmination. The family was becoming official just a few days before Christmas. With the adoption of four children on this day, Catalina and her husband, Oscar Maciel, became adoptive parents to 11 children.

“They’re just an incredible, amazing family,” said Sullivan, who also presided over the family’s second adoption ceremony. “You see some families come through that are pretty big, with eight or nine kids, but you don’t see families with 11 kids who are all adopted.”

It has been a three-year journey for a married couple who swore they did not want kids to become the heads of a “forever home” for three groups of adopted siblings.

When challenges arose — a parent’s hospital visit for a heart condition or child services workers who said 11 was too many — Catalina Maciel, who has a full-time job in sales and is the co-founder of a nonprofit agency, and Oscar Maciel, a state investigator, refused to quit.

It all led to this day, when the third set of siblings took Catalina and Oscar’s last name and the couple’s names were added to the children’s birth certificates. With the Maciels’ house, car and bank account reaching their limits, there are no more adoptions in sight for the first time since 2009.

One of the newest members of the family, Joseph, wore a dark suit to the ceremony, as did all of his brothers. He decided to take Colton as his middle name. It was a name of special meaning for Oscar Maciel, a nod to the young boy that changed his whole perspective on being a parent.

From zero to 11 in three not-so-easy steps

Catalina and Oscar Maciel met in Salinas, Calif., before moving to Las Vegas together in 1999.

Catalina, an outgoing showroom manager at World Market Center with a big smile, and Oscar, a soft-spoken but hulking brick column of a man, never thought they would have kids.

They married on July 7, 2007, and were happy as a couple for the first couple of years, the only pitter-patter of feet on the floor from their pug, Pugsley.

“We felt like having kids was such a big commitment, and we both watched the Oprah Winfrey show and all those shows that were on TV at the time that scare you from having children,” Catalina Maciel, 34, said. “Then we got married and all you can say is it was God’s hand in changing our perspective on having children.”

Around Christmastime in 2008, she saw a TV show called “Wednesday’s Child” about local children available for adoption.

“They showcased two little boys, and when they asked them what they wanted for Christmas, one of the little boys said, ‘A mommy and a daddy,’” she recalled.

Oscar Maciel wasn’t ready.

Then, one day he was buying something off of Craigslist and went to the seller’s house. That's where he met Colton, a bright and inquisitive little boy. The meeting sparked the flame of fatherhood in Oscar.

Oscar had told his mother that he would never have children because he saw himself as too selfish and incapable of raising a child, but calls meeting Colton a “hand of God” moment. He went home and told his wife of his change of heart. She wasted no time.

Oscar and Catalina never considered trying to conceive their own children.

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The Maciel family buckler up in their 12-passenger van after an adoption proceeding at family court Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The family officially adopted four more children, including Joey, 5, center, for a total of eleven children.

“We wanted to help children who were already here who wanted a mommy and a daddy,” Catalina said. “We really didn’t consider having our own children. When we went through the classes, we knew we wanted to adopt siblings because many of the children here are separated because homes are not able to take the complete group.”

At first they met two siblings, but it did not feel quite right and another set of parents were interested in them, Catalina said. She then was told of a group of four, and she signed up without consulting Oscar.

By June 2009 she had traded in her Dodge Charger with 22-inch rims for a Cadillac SUV, and the four siblings, two girls and two boys from 7 to 13 years old, had moved in.

“I think you just don’t think about (being prepared),” Catalina said. “I had never been a mom but I was one of the older sisters in my family. I think that once they are in front of you, you do what you have to do. I thought, my mom wasn’t always right but she did it out of love. So, therefore I knew that I’d be raising my children out of love. I might not get it right all the time, but everything is negotiable and manageable. I’d figure it out. We thought if God wanted us to have four, and it worked out for them to come to us, then four it would be.”

Everything went well with the first group of siblings, better than the Maciels could have imagined.

“You know what? They are beautiful kids and the transition was just amazing, like they were always my babies,” Catalina Maciel said. "We got them in the summer and it just ran smooth. I continued to work the whole time because you figure moms do it out there all the time, so I could work and manage my household.”

About six months later, just as they were nearing the end of the foster period with the children and the Maciels were preparing for adoption, Clark County called.

“They told me they had a sibling group of three, and one of them looked just like me,” she said.

They met the new group at a McDonald’s at Charleston Boulevard and Torrey Pines Drive, the same place they had met the first four.

The same week the three new children came to live with the family, the Maciels moved into a new six-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot home.

“When the economy went south here in Vegas, while it was bad for some folks, it was a blessing for us because at the same time we submitted to be considered for adoption we submitted on a larger home,” Catalina Maciel said. “We never could have afforded a home that size before the recession.”

The first group of four called the new children brother and sister as soon as they crossed the threshold. They, after all, knew what the life of a foster child was like.

“We would not be adopting more kids if the other ones were opposed to it,” Catalina Maciel said. “I think because they’re not selfish and they know what it’s like to be a foster child, to go from home to home not knowing what’s going to happen, not having birthday parties. … What we take for granted, sometimes children in the foster community do not have that. Something as simple as someone hugging you and telling you they love you may not be the norm for them.”

Their house was now bustling with seven kids, and the Maciels were working out an organized system to make sure each one got attention and care. Several of the children have developmental or learning disabilities, and they all get counseling and other help from Clark County social services.

A month after the second batch had moved in, Oscar Maciel started to feel sick and was rushed to the hospital.

“The second three had not been adopted yet, and you run the risk in those months when they are foster children that they can be removed from your home,” Catalina said. “I was so worried I would lose my husband and children in one swoop.”

Clearing hurdles

Oscar Maciel was diagnosed with an an enlarged heart. He'd recover, but he needed a defibrillator in his chest and went on medication.

Approximately a year later, in August 2011, adoption services called to say there was a group of four siblings that needed to be adopted. The Maciels were interested, but not all of the departments that handle child services signed off. They were denied. Eleven is too many, the family was told.

Undeterred — there’s no law against 11; it is just their “opinion,” Catalina Maciel said — they appealed the decision.

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Catalina Maciel checks her daughter Allie's appearance at family court Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The family officially adopted four more children for a total of eleven children.

“When you appeal, you appear before a board and they get to meet you,” she said. “We wanted them to come to our home to see the space we have and how we manage the kids, but they wouldn’t do it. Most all of (the Maciels’ children) have a 3.0 (GPA) or above. … We took all the pictures we have in the house, and we took all the binders we use to organize the children’s medical records and other documents. We showed them how we stay on top of everything, but I also wanted them to see how happy they are.”

Betty Schmitz, the court-appointed special advocate for the four children adopted Dec. 20, said what you notice first about the Maciels' home is the foundation of love — and next is how incredibly organized they are.

“I haven’t had anyone else that had 11 adopted children,” Schmitz said. “At first, when you hear that a family is trying to make 11 kids work, you are a little concerned. My job is to look after the kids’ best interest. You want to make sure they get the attention and love they need. What Oscar and Catalina have done is absolutely incredible. Each child gets the attention they need and the children are absolutely thriving.”

On March 31, the family of nine won their appeal and added four more. In all, there are six girls, ages 3 to 14, and five boys, ages 5 to 16. Bunk beds were installed and now the SUV had become a 12-passenger cargo van they already want to replace with something bigger.

“We’re done for now,” Catalina Maciel said. “But if we won Megabucks tomorrow, we’d take more kids.”

Meanwhile, at the end of 2011, Catalina helped found a Nevada chapter of the Never Give Up Foundation, a nonprofit group started in 2008 in Utah that assists parents raising children with disabilities.

Matthew Cox, who led parenting classes that the Maciels took, and Kelly King, an educator, also are co-founders.

The organization helps parents navigate the educational system and access the assistance they need for children coping with various disabilities. Cox leads workshops on working together and solving problems. Catalina Maciel helps parents find doctors who will manage large families and resources for children with learning disabilities. King assists parents in developing individual educational plans for children with disabilities.

“Our dream is to have a location where we can give regular classes,” Catalina Maciel said. “We want to show them that it can work; you just have to put in a little bit of time.”

Integrating into the pack

Catalina Maciel wakes most days at 5:30 a.m. so she can have a half-hour to herself to think and prepare for the day. While the children have tutors, mentors and social service workers, there are no nannies in the Maciel household.

At 6 a.m., she coaxes the children out of bed. They watch the news while she helps the girls and youngest boys with their hair in assembly-line fashion. They chat and eat breakfast — Catalina insists they eat in front of her to ensure they go to school with fuel.

The Maciels encourage the kids to “pursue their dreams and find their purpose.” Some have found art or music. The oldest is in Junior ROTC and sees the military in his future. One of the girls would like to become a veterinarian. Some play softball, and one of the girls practiced mixed martial arts before switching to boxing.

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David, 9, and Vanessa Maciel, 12, take a photo as they wait outside a courtroom at family court Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. The family officially adopted four more children for a total of eleven children.

“All the children are like a little lock; they each have their own combination,” Catalina Maciel said. “Because we are dealing with abuse and neglect and all that stuff, everybody sees things differently, experiences things differently and is affected differently by different situations.”

After school or day care, the children head to their activities or come home for tutoring or therapy sessions. Dinner is between 5:30 and 6 p.m. At the 14-seat table, any guest who picks the wrong seat can make the finely tuned system blow a gasket. The youngest ones are in bed by 8:30 p.m., while the older ones observe a 9:30 p.m. bedtime.

With a family this size, some concessions have to be made. Instead of packing the whole crew into two cars every Sunday, they watch a webcast of church services.

Last week at the Clark County Family Court, their family was as close-knit a brood as any.

On the way out of the courthouse, the younger children all held hands like schoolkids on a field trip. They filed into the white van and used tissues to check each other’s runny noses after escaping the near-freezing temperatures.

“This Christmas will be extra special,” Oscar Maciel said, the words struggling to escape from his throat. “For us, we don’t see ourselves adopting more. This feels like a culmination. It’s special.”

In the summer, the whole family plans to travel to Monterey Bay, in central California near where Oscar and Catalina first met, to “renew their vows,” not as a couple but as a family.

The two cars pulled out of the Family Court parking lot and headed toward another tradition, a post-adoption family meal, where you could be sure all of the kids would sit in the right order.

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  1. Wonderful story. This is one I'll remember for a long time.

  2. Lapan -- how warm and fuzzy. As much as the Maciels are worthy of praise, what about the families each of these kids came from? Your article fails by not mentioning that. In my experience a lot of adoptions are actually based on stealing children for profit.

    "To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson (from "Metamorphosis"?)

  3. KillerB: In between the lines there are clues, perhaps unknown to the reporter, that the adoptive families are using foster and adopted kids to qualify for many social welfare programs. How do you think that annoying tv family affords 19 kids? Yup, you and me. Tax refunds when they had nothing withheld. Down payment grants from the government. Free housing before buying. EBT SNAP food stamps, TANF, child care funding, endless non-profit programs..... Oh, I think it's great when a successful family adopts one or two, but to do so as a career INSTEAD of employment....not so good. And not even any mention of the $1,000 a month plus subsidy for each foster kid.