'I Feel Blessed';
Over the past few months, the miracles have come in packages big and small, and for Kathleen Lutz, they're the priceless reminders of human kindness.
There were the firefighters from Engine Co. 28 in Manhattan who arrived one late November Sunday at her East Setauket home, ripping off the old shingles of her roof in anticipation of a new one. There was the elderly couple who showed up unannounced and refused to give their names but left 12 dozen homemade cookies and a beige winter parka for Lutz.
And before Christmas, 200 holiday cards arrived from a seventh-grade English class at Hicksville Middle School.
"I was blown away, overwhelmed. I always believed there was good in people, but I still feel blessed," said Lutz, 32, who has an inoperable brain tumor and cares for her seven adopted siblings, all of whom have Down syndrome.
Over three decades, her parents, Jack and Grace, adopted the children, now aged 13 to 27. Her father, a retired New York City firefighter, died of leukemia in 1993 and her mother died of heart problems two years ago. At that point, Lutz moved back into the house to enter the universe of single parenthood. Her family's story and her difficulties were highlighted in Newsday several weeks ago.
Two months after hundreds of Long Islanders opened their hearts to the family, the future is uncertain. Lutz goes for her next CAT scan next month, to track the progress of the tumor. But she said she is comforted by the outpouring of support.
Family Service League of Huntington, a nonprofit group that is overseeing assistance to the family, has been flooded with phone calls and checks. Long Islanders donated more than $100,000, and the money will be used for the long-term care of Lutz's brothers and sisters.
The Christmas tree was still up last week at the house and decorated with framed pictures of the children, who received donated gifts to open. Danny, 16, showed off his new Coleman sports watch, one of his favorite presents.
The reasons people have reached out to the family vary. Some have said it's simply the right thing to do. Kristina Holzweiss, who teaches the seventh-grade English class at Hicksville Middle School, wanted to instill in students the importance of sharing during the holiday season.
"I wrote a list of the family members' names and ages on the board and encouraged my students to write to individuals as well as to the entire Lutz family," she said. One student asked if he could enclose $5. She didn't say no.
The Lutzes' ranch-style house in East Setauket, which once had a leaky roof and worn green carpet, is also looking better by the day. Since November, dozens of contractors have donated their services.
First came the new roof, put on by Paul Beinlich, 32, of Affordable Exteriors in Ridge. Paul Komodikis of Venus Home Improvement in Brentwood showed up last month and told the family he wanted to put vinyl siding and green shutters on the house. "I asked some friends of mine to help, and they came through. It was the right thing to do," said Komodikis, who was working at the house Friday.
Even two months after the assistance began, the house has the energy of Grand Central Terminal, with workers coming in and out to make improvements. "The kids love them. They've all made friends," Lutz said.
Her best friend, Suzanne Jennison, helps keep track of the outpouring with a black-and-white composition notebook stuffed with business cards and scribbled phone numbers. "We were getting 150 phone calls a day," said Jennison, who also helps care for the children. "There are just nice, nice people out there."
Still, the day-to-day rituals of the family remain unchanged. There are still meals to cook and be served at a long kitchen table each day. Children to get off to school each morning. Occasional temper tantrums. The other morning, Shannon, 14, just didn't feel like getting dressed, and sat defiantly on the living room floor.
Lutz has her hands full caring for her brothers and sisters, and as it would in any family, the negotiations become an exercise in diplomacy.
"It's what my parents raised me to do," she said. "I think they're looking down from heaven and in some ways I feel they brought these people to me."