CHICAGO — Kevin Yohpe believes he found his life's work in the form of the four young children he and his wife, Katina, adopted.
Overnight in late January 2014, the Yohpes' North Lawndale household ballooned from two to six as the four siblings — Darniel, 6; Jaylyn, 5; Daisy, 3; and Jeremiah, 2 — moved in.
"I'm trying to think of a word that could describe it correctly, but it was not an easy thing," said Yohpe, an electrical engineer.
The 6-foot-1 Yohpe lost 20 pounds, going from 180 to 160, in the first few weeks. The four children missed their mother, who voluntarily gave them up for adoption.
"There was a lot of grief because they missed their mom. It was like a death almost," Yohpe said. "It took a lot of patience."
But over time, things changed.
The kids for the first six months called the Yohpes "Mr. Kevin" and "Mrs. Katina." Then, it switched to "Mommy Katina" and "Daddy Kevin." Now it's simply "Mom" and "Dad." The siblings now range in age from 4½ to 9.
The Yohpes have been married for five years and have lived in North Lawndale for the last four after residing in Little Italy. They chose North Lawndale, which has one of the city's highest shooting rates, because they wanted to make a difference in an undervalued community.
"We're living here on purpose," Yohpe said. "We want to invest in the neighborhood and the people in the neighborhood. We're aware of what happens here at certain times at night, but there are a lot of great neighbors here, and a lot of people who don't like the violence here and are working hard to reduce it.
"I think it's really good for me and my family to be invested in a neighborhood that often gets overlooked. There's a risk, but it's important to value people that are valuable and aren't being valued."
The Yohpes, even before they were married, had talked about adopting children. They had been involved with mentoring and educational programs for young children, and their original goal had been to become foster parents with the intent to adopt.
A mutual friend told them about the four siblings' mom who wished to give them up for adoption, on the condition that all four had to be adopted by the same family. The Yohpes filled out the required paperwork and received a $3,500 grant from Gift of Adoption, an organization that helps families cover the costs of adoption.
"We’re honored to support the Yohpe family with a grant to complete the adoption of their four children," Gift of Adoption CEO Pam Devereux said. "The family's commitment to keeping these siblings together, by giving them a permanent and loving home, will positively change the path of these kids' lives forever."
The Yohpes were the second choice of the birth mother, who originally selected a different family for her kids. The siblings spent 11 days at that family's house, which didn't work out, and the Yohpes were asked if they'd still be interested in adopting them.
"We knew there weren't a lot of people who would be willing to adopt all four kids," Yohpe said. "We said, 'Yeah, we want them to be our kids.'"
The Yohpes four adopted children: Darniel (the oldest), Jaylyn, Daisy and Jeremiah (the youngest). [Kevin Yohpe]
Katina Yohpe left her job as an English literature teacher at Rauner College Prep to home-school her four new children. She does most of the shopping too, which includes mass quantities of pasta, rice, chicken, corn, peas, broccoli, strawberries, apples, oranges, raspberries, cheddar cheese and string cheese.
"Most of my priorities had to take four big steps down to accommodate these new, all-consuming relationships. And I do a lot more laundry now," she said. "I feel incredibly blessed to have these four amazing people in my life, and I think they're happy to have us, too, but it's been messy. This adoption was God's provision for our kids and for us, but it was a provision that was necessary because of a lot of brokenness."
Kevin Yohpe said whenever he returns home from work, it's "a party."
"There’s something going on to enjoy with the kids, whether they’re playing or wrestling or playing on the piano," he said. "Looking back now, it's the only thing that could have happened. I couldn't imagine life without them for sure."
Gift of Adoption is hosting several Chicago events in November, which is Adoption Awareness Month. For more information on the events, including a Nov. 1 event Downtown, click here.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.