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Nassau, Habitat help family stay together

The Clarkin siblings stand in the porch of

The Clarkin siblings stand in the porch of their new home in Mineola made possible through a partnership between Nassau County, Habitat for Humanity and Disability Opportunity Fund. (March 30, 2012) Credit: Alejandra Villa

When the old family home in Mineola started falling apart, the six brothers and sisters sharing the house feared they'd have to go their separate ways.

All are now in their 40s to 60s, and all have mild developmental disabilities.

After living together for decades, clinging to their independence, would they have to be split up in group homes?

Thanks to help from Nassau County and Habitat for Humanity, the siblings will be sharing a new house instead -- on the same property.

Before Friday's ribbon-cutting, one of the new residents, Kathleen Clarkin, 64, excitedly showed visitors her new bedroom, with walls painted her favorite shade.

"It's pink," she said.

Clarkin, who makes gauze masks for dentists, said her two sisters and three brothers share her excitement and relief.

Part of a family with 12 children, the six grew up in a small, two-story house on Westbury Avenue. The girls shared one bedroom; the boys another.

Their father, William Clarkin, died of cancer in 1982, and their mother, Rose, passed a decade later at 72.

Over the years, the five non-disabled siblings moved out but stayed in the area to support the others.

One developmentally disabled sister moved upstate, while the other six remained in the family home as adults. Today, each is employed, with jobs ranging from cleaning offices to attaching price tags to clothes at a retail store.

But even as their bonds remained strong, the home began falling apart. The water heater burst; the wiring and plumbing had to be repaired.

"We didn't know if we'd have to split them up in group homes," said one of the Clarkin siblings, Elizabeth Valentino, 56, of Mineola, who is not disabled but is raising a daughter with autism.

The Disability Opportunity Fund, an Albertson-based nonprofit that helps disabled people find housing, contacted Habitat for Humanity, which agreed to tear down the old house and put up a new one in its place. Nassau County chipped in $175,000.

The siblings, who have been renting a house, will be able to move into the two-story, six-bedroom home in a couple of weeks. Kay McKiernan, president of Habitat for Humanity in Nassau, said she hopes the new home will be as happy as the old one.

"They are just a devoted family. The siblings who are not challenged care so much about their siblings who are in the house," McKiernan said.

Most of the siblings will now be able to stay near each other in the Mineola area, Valentino said.

"This is what my mother would have wanted: for us to stay together," she said.

Added Kathleen Clarkin: "I like it. You have somebody to talk to."

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