Updated 12/02/2011 08:45 PM
Syracuse firefighters giving Otisco family a home makeover
An Otisco couple who has given a lot of themselves is getting something in return from the community. YNN's Erin Clarke tells us about plans to remodel the Johnson family home and why one group is volunteering their time.
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ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Meet retired firefighter, Dave Johnson and his wife, Diana.
"When we first met, we, one of the common denominators, were that we both really loved kids and it was shortly after we got married that we decided to adopt," said Diana Johnson.
Thirty-nine years of marriage later, that common denominator has yielded 17 children,14 of whom are adopted.
"My mom and dad are very special to me. They've given me like a new life and stuff, because I really wouldn't have a life if it wasn't for them," said Hanna Johnson.
Hanna and her biological sisters are from war-torn Sierra Leone. Some of their siblings are from the Philippines. Their brother, Andy, has Crohn's Disease and is on an I.V. for eight to 12 hours a day.
"If anybody is going to show you what love really is, it's going to be them," said Mark Johnson.
Dave and Diane do their very best to provide a good life for their children. To make that happen means sometimes going without for themselves.
"He'd be coming in in ratty jeans, but it's not because it was cool or he was a hippy. It's truly because he wouldn't buy himself jeans so that he could provide for the kids that he was adopting," said Syracuse Fire Chief Mark McLees.
The Johnson's three bedroom home has also taken a toll and doesn't provide nearly enough space for the huge family.
"I room with my sisters Hanna and Mikala and sometimes it's really crowded here when you're trying to get to bed and like homework or something," said Grace Johnson.
The Johnson's reached out to ABC's “Extreme Home Makeover,” but were not chosen, so Syracuse firefighters are coming together to make that project a reality.
"Basically gut the inside. Take it right down to studs," said McClurg Remodeling and Construction President and former Syracuse firefighter Scott McClurg.
When it's done, the Johnsons will have a five bedroom, two bath home that is handicap accessible for Andy and Dave, whose health is beginning to fail.
"My dad, his legs really bothers him. He sleeps on his couch every day because he can't go in his room on his bed," said Mikala Johnson.
Three hundred and forty firemen hope to have this done by working round the clock for about two to three weeks in April. They say it's community helping community and they're hoping many more volunteer to help this family.
Syracuse firefighters say anyone can help out with the Johnson Family Home Project by bringing recyclable bottles to Eight Cents Bottle Return Centers and asking them to donate your refund to the project. You can also visit the Johnson Family Home Project Facebook page at www.facebook.com/JohnsonFamilyHomeProject.