Working with crayons at the kitchen table, 10-year-old Emily Urell drew a picture of a dark-haired woman and asked, “Excuse me, Mommy, how do you spell your name?”
“M-O-M,” Regina Urell began.
“No, your real name,” Emily insisted.
Her mom dutifully spelled out R-E-G-I-N-A, and Emily carefully added the head of the household’s given name to her artwork.
But M-O-M or M-O-M-M-Y would have been equally appropriate.
Regina Urell answers to both.
The 28-year-old Clarks Summit woman officially adopted Emily, 8-year-old Courtney, 6-year-old Alexa, 5-year-old Ashley and 3-year-old Abigail in December, so the five biological, special-needs siblings could stay together in a forever home.
They were recently awarded 2013 Family of the Year by the Wilkes- Barre Racing Company.
“Regina Urell has opened her heart and her home to five wonderful girls and adopted all five sisters together in 2012. She is a single mom with more faith, courage and love than anyone can imagine,” said Rich Pais, Executive Director of Wilkes- Barre Racing in announcing the award.
The Wilkes- Barre Racing Co., which is affiliated with the foster care and adoption agency Concern, located in Eynon, asked Urell to promote foster care in a radio commercial. After speaking with Urell about how she adopted the five girls, Pais decided to nominate her for “Family of the Year.”
A typical day — after school for the older girls and day care for the youngest ones — includes “home, homework, dinner, showers and bed,” Urell said.
Special fun ranges from gymnastics and dance to karate and soccer.
Urell enjoys all these growing-up rituals because, she explained, it’s giving her a chance to enjoy childhood activities she never experienced as a youngster herself.
With a leukemia diagnosis at age 4 and a relapse at age 7, she spent many of her early years undergoing cancer treatments.
“I was in a wheelchair for a year. They said I’d never walk again. I was on a morphine pump 24 hours a day,” Urell remembers.
But she survived, and she walks. She graduated from Penn State/Worthington, married and divorced, and holds a job as a TSS (therapeutic staff support) worker, helping three autism-spectrum clients each day.
Then she comes home to her five daughters, some of whom also are on the autism spectrum and/or have attention deficit disorder.
Prior to adopting the girls, she served as a foster parent through Concern, where she cared for a boy, Brendon, for a year. He currently lives with his grandmother but visits the Urell family.
“He’s actually a big part of the family still,” said Urell. “The girls call him brother.”
When Urell asked her daughters what it means to be adopted, Emily answered, “To have a happy home and food.”
Abigail answered, “Having you (Regina).”
Emily is a 3rd grade student at Newton Ransom Elementary School. Courtney, 1st grade and Alexa, kindergarten are students at Clarks Summit Elementary School. All five girls attend Daydreamers Child Care in Newton Twp.
The Urell family will attend the Glen Summit Spring Water Harvey’s Lake Run April 20. They will be at a first aid station handing out water to runners.
“The Harvey’s Lake Run has a long history of being one of the most popular runs in NEPA,” said Pais. “It was part of an Irish festival for many years and for reasons largely unknown was abandoned several years ago. Glenn Summit Spring Water sponsored a revival of the race three years ago and the numbers have doubled this year. The race is a family -friendly event with a 5K run/walk, free pancake breakfast and free Crossfit Kids for children from 5 -14. This means runners can bring the whole family and the kids will be doing their own fitness workout while mom and dad run.”
The Wilkes -Barre Racing Co. was glad to sponsor the Family of the Year Award and plans to continue.
Pais, who is an adoptive father himself, said Wilkes-Barre racing is starting a grant program for young athletes in the foster and adoption community.
“From now on, all foster parents and kids will race with us for free,” he said. “And we have scholarships for foster kids who want to race anywhere in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
“This is our first time making the award,” said Pais. “We will do this annually to recognize and honor families that open their hearts and homes to children without parents. We are especially proud to honor families who take in older children, sibling groups and children with special needs. Without these incredible people, the children they adopt face a life without ever knowing the love of a mom or dad.”
Pais was honored to give the first award to Urell’s family.
“The most amazing part of the family is their love and humility,” he said about the Urell family. “Regina struggles to answer the question of ‘Why did you adopt five girls?’ To her there was no other option”
Earlier in her life, Urell said, foster care appealed to her because it was temporary. But now she is enthusiastic about the stability of a forever family, a unit. If she ever were to consider marrying again, she said, it would have to be to someone who welcomed her children.
“We’re a package deal.”
For now, she’s put her house up for sale because she needs more room. Her current house in a Clarks Summit development has only two bedrooms, with the girls’ five beds filling the larger room.
“I’m actually looking for a ‘mother/daughter’ house,” she said, explaining that would have enough room for her, the girls and her parents, Harry and Theresa Burd, who now live several hours away.
What Urell said she likes most about adopting the girls is that she finds it rewarding to see them having a happy, healthy life.
“It really is giving them an opportunity that they don’t have,” she said. “They didn’t ask to be put in any particular situation, so to give them an opportunity… a happy, healthy life is a chance that you have.”