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The tale of four sisters


The Howenstines share their experience as two new “sisters” move in

A seemingly typical family of four – the mother, the father, and two teenage daughters – the Howenstines began the new school year with no anticipation of any sudden changes in their family. However, junior Brianna Howenstine and her younger sister, freshman Mckenna Howenstine, soon found themselves in a suddenly expanding family. New and old friends found themselves looking for a home, and this family now had two new daughters with four teen girls under one roof.

Petronella Klint, the 16 year old foreign exchange student from Sweden, first met the eldest Howenstine daughter only two days after her arrival on August 10, 2019 through her host sister, Nasatsia Schwelkert, a German foreign exchange student. After discovering that Klint was looking for a place to stay, Howenstine immediately asked her family. 

“I hung out with Brie when I arrived here because I didn’t have a permanent host family,” Klint said. “I lived with the coordinator from the company that I am traveling with. I just mentioned to Brie that I was looking for a permanent host family and they just chose to host me, so then I moved in like three weeks after I came here.”

SISTERLY LOVE: The four girls show their affection during a beach trip.

Klint has two siblings in Sweden, ages 23 and 26, and noted that it had been a long time since she lived with siblings under the same roof. Due to their age difference, her biological siblings treated her “in a much more mature way” while her host sisters “feel more like friends and people that [she] can chill with.”

In November of 2019, the Howenstine family grew once again as junior Melissa Mendoza, Howenstine’s “best friend since freshman year,” moved in. A foster kid since the age of 11, Mendoza was accustomed more to familial changes compared to the Howenstines. Despite being separated from her three siblings, ages 14, 16, and 18, Mendoza works through the difficulties, knowing that her new family is right by her side. 

“We’ve been talking since we were freshmen that we wanted to live together,” Mendoza said. “So when she figured out that I needed a place to stay, she and her parents said that I could live with them.”

Mendoza and her family showed immense gratitude in the days that followed. But times were not all strength, family, and peace for the Howenstines. On Sept. 25, 2019, Howenstine went into residential treatment for depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety. 

“Without them, I probably would have gone back honestly,” Howenstine said, recalling her return back from the facility.

She arrived home on Oct. 26, after 31 days in treatment. Mendoza then moved in three weeks later, a further step for Howenstine’s health. “You don’t have to call your best friend and tell them to come over,” Howenstine noted. “You can just walk into their room and ask for help.”

POSING: The sisters pose with the Howenstines’ mother Shonna.

Amid the changes in family size and dynamic, the youngest sister Mckenna Howenstine found she needed a change herself. She  moved into her grandparents’ house at the end of winter break after beginning to feel that “life in Paso was getting too overwhelming.”

Though it was certainly a bit of a shock to have such a change within the household, her relationship with her sisters still remains incredibly positive with her biological sister referring to her as “one of her favorite people ever.”

“I had cold feet about them moving in because it was such a change,” Mckenna Howenstine said, “but in the end it made me really happy and I couldn’t imagine life without them.

Even without the youngest Howenstine present, there’s still a full house everyday. Though Mendoza had “always been really social,” the others find new opportunities through one another to expand their social circles.

“It’s a little hard as an exchange student to have courage to talk to people and make new friends,” Klint said. “But when we all started to live together, I got to meet their friends and became friends with them.”

Between all the struggles and difficulties they have faced, both before and after arriving at the Howenstine household, these four sisters prove how far a little love, support, and a leap of faith can take you.

“It was an adjustment period,” Brianna Howenstine said, “but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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