Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Thirteen years ago, the Burgesses were a happy family of five. Living on nine acres of woodland in Hendricks County, Karen homeschooled their three young children while Kevin worked as a senior data analyst at Galyan’s Corporate in Plainfield. Though their lives were already plenty fulfilling, they both felt a desire to expand their brood.
They began the process of adoption and in 2010, they adopted a daughter from China. Almost immediately they knew they wanted to adopt again — a sibling group, if possible, since they had the room in their home and in their hearts for additional children. Three years later, they brought home four boys and a girl from Colombia, making them an official family of 11.
“My oldest son was thrilled to get four brothers since he had nothing but sisters up to that point,” Kevin says. “I remember when we told him the good news, he did a somersault in the living room.”
Prior to the adoptions, Kevin had changed careers and was now running his own real estate company, Values Driven Realty. Karen, too, was delving into a new professional venture that started when a friend gifted her with a bar of goat’s milk soap.
“I was amazed at how much better it felt on my skin than normal soap,” Karen says.
A few weeks later when Kevin was out of town, that same neighbor presented Karen with a larger gift — the goat that helped make the soap. The neighbor was moving and had to find her goat a new home. Immediately, the wheels started turning in Karen’s mind. Knowing how quickly adoption costs add up, she wondered if perhaps she could learn how to make and sell goat’s milk soap to help defray the adoption expenses.
“We already had chickens, rabbits and cats, so why not add a goat?” Karen says. Plus, it would provide additional chores and responsibilities for the youngsters.
Soon the whole family was learning how to milk goats, and Kevin was the first to encourage his wife’s passion — especially after hearing the positive customer feedback.
“We’d go to farmer’s markets where people would repeatedly tell us how the goat’s milk soap had improved their skin,” Kevin says. “Folks with cancer, psoriasis and eczema were telling us that this product was changing their lives by helping their dry skin.”
Using a software program, Karen played around with homemade soap recipes, choosing ingredients and essential oils based on whether she was looking to craft a bubbly or creamy lather, a conditioning or drying bar. Then she created trial sizes to test it. Karen has found that the most popular selling scents of her all-natural soaps are Shea Supreme, French Lavender and Indian Lemongrass.
Once it became clear that Karen could transition her short-term money making endeavor into a full-fledged, profitable career, she decided to go for it and in July 2013, Global Soaps was born. Selling soaps, lotions, lip balm, laundry detergents and stain remover bars, the name of the company reflects the Burgess’ diverse, global family.
Growing the business, while taxing, was nothing compared to the energy it took to grow their family.
“Adopting five children all at once and adjusting to the many changes that it brings is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Karen says. “Learning how to be friends and siblings and love one another takes time. Even now, after nearly four years of all living as a family, the pieces are still coming together.”
It’s a lot to tackle on a daily basis — homeschooling nine children, running a business and still fitting in time to do everything else it takes to run a household. That’s why Karen maintains a flexible schedule that more easily adapts to illnesses, appointments and work responsibilities.
Last spring, the Burgess’ eldest daughter, Carissa, graduated high school and is now helping her parents to cultivate both the soap and real estate businesses. In fact, all of the children have a hand in the company’s success. The older ones milk the goats and help make and sell the soap while the younger ones gather leaves for the animals and decorate the bags the soap is sold in. All of the children pitch in to clean the stalls and care for the health of the goats — of which there are now 16.
The entire process has served to be a tremendous bonding experience, and Karen couldn’t be happier with the astounding change she has witnessed in her children as they have acclimated to a new culture, a new language and a new life in Indiana. The youngest adoptee, for instance, initially bristled when his parents tried to hold or touch him. Like many young children, he also experienced emotional outbursts and physical fits. Now, however, he runs to his parents for tender hugs, he seeks their loving approval and he’s eager to demonstrate any new things he’s learned.
The Burgesses advice to other families who are looking to adopt a large number of children is to pray regularly, garner support from those who have been through the process and take the transition one day at a time.
“It’s quite a roller coaster, but it’s so worth it,” Kevin says. “So, give yourself grace and just keep going. That’s what we’re doing, and we are immensely enjoying the ride.”
For more information about the Burgess family and their business, visit globalsoaps.com. Their products are also available in Hendricks County at Decorator Mall (Plainfield), Frazee Gardens (Brownsburg), The Bee Hive (Danville) and the Garden Gate and Flower Shop (North Salem). They can also be found this summer at the Plainfield and Brownsburg Farmers Markets.