Close-knit family in Clinton helps the community through fostering

For Robert and Gloria Eddins, family is both dear – and very, very near – to their hearts.

Their two youngest kids, Crystal and Miles, still live at home. The two eldest, Philip and Samantha, live next door with their families in a duplex in the Clinton neighborhood.

Along the way, the couple took in more than 26 foster children and their home became a temporary refuge for extended family when a relative fell ill.

The tight-knit family started out in tight surroundings – a 800-square-foot house.

“Husband was working a minimum wage job, I was working a part-time job and there was this little itty-bitty 800-square-foot rental house in Clinton neighborhood with a huge yard,” Gloria said.

This story is part of a series about the people and issues in Lincoln’s six most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods. Graphic: Tyler Loebig

Robert and Gloria, active in the Clinton Neighborhood Association, had been high school sweethearts. Robert graduated in 1991 from Lincoln High, a year before Gloria. He joined the Air Force and was stationed at Offutt Air Force base in Omaha. They were married in the summer of 1992 and lived in Papillion before returning to Lincoln after Robert left the Air Force.

They rented the house in Clinton for 12 years. Raising a family of five in 800-square-foot home meant bunk beds and little privacy but offered big benefits.

“My kids got so close growing up. They’re just close kids. They look out for one another, they have each other’s backs constantly because there are no secrets in a 800-square-foot-house,”  Gloria said. “You don’t lose yourself in a little room and get away from everybody. You have to deal with it and fight it out because you are living in this tiny little house … it made my family stronger.”

Even with the family always so close together, dinnertime was the most important part of the day. They could talk with everyone about school and their activities. It didn’t matter if the kid’s friends were over or extended family was in town, when dinner was called, everyone was invited to the table.

In 2005, the Eddins were able to buy their first home. They found the perfect house in the same Clinton neighborhood and nearly tripled their space.

“When we moved here, it was weird because all of a sudden it was quiet,” Gloria said. “We were like ‘Where are they all at?”

However, the increased space allowed Robert to achieve a lifelong dream: becoming a foster parent. Growing up, he was in and out of foster care, and he saw being a foster parent as a way to give back. Before getting married to Gloria, they discussed it and both decided they wanted to foster teenagers since they are the hardest age group to place.

The decision to foster was a family decision. Every time Gloria or Robert would be called about a placement, they took a family vote. Everyone in the household, including the other foster kids, had to approve.

They first fostered and eventually adopted Robert’s nephew, Miles, in 2009. He was the first of 26 kids they eventually fostered from 2009-2015.

“My favorite part of me living here is having parents,” said Miles, now 14. “They look over me and make sure I don’t get in trouble. And also having sisters and a brother.”

Sometimes the Eddins would have as many as eight kids in the house; their home was one of the few foster homes allowed to have both boys and girls because they had bedrooms on two different levels.  They brought the bunk beds back, and kept adding places at the table, just like they did in their 800-square-foot house.

At times, Robert felt like he was cooking for an army. Depending on how many kids, their friends and extended family was in the house, they could have almost enough people to field two baseball teams.

“Half the time we had extras, on the weekends we always had extras. We could go from eight to 15 kids. You just made room because we’re going to sit at the table. Going to sit on the couch? Nope we will make room; add a card table,” Gloria said “We would take up the whole room just to fit everyone at the table.”

The size of the house or number of people already living there never stopped Robert and Gloria from taking in family when needed. When they were living in their first home, Gloria  learned that her cousin’s 2-year-old son who lived in Cambridge had been diagnosed with leukemia and needed to travel to Omaha for treatment. The Eddins family took them in – transforming their living room into a bedroom. The guests stayed for a year, and her cousin’s wife bought them a bigger dining room table so they could continue the tradition of eating dinner as a family.

“We had a 800 square-foot house with three children, plus her, plus him, plus us two. It was the best year of my life,” Gloria said. “Because you just make room.”

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