‘Everything’s bigger in Texas’: Mom, family of 29 get the Disney shock and surprise of a lifetime

“Everything’s bigger in Texas.” I have heard this sentiment since I was in my single-digit ages, and I can tell you that it can be an out-and-out lie, and then again, it might be the absolute truth; it just depends on the scenario and subject matter. And while not all of us wear cowboy hats and boots, most of us don’t ride horses to work, and very few of my friends and family live on a ranch, it is true that the surprises are bigger in Texas, especially when they come from Mickey Mouse.

That’s exactly what Paula Cornelius will tell you if you ask her. When she answered her front door on the morning of November 12, she got the surprise of her life–and all because so many to whom she’d shown kindness and love wanted to honor her. Paula and her family live in Cedar Hill, Texas, a suburb south of Dallas. But Paula is not your typical mom, and her family is not your typical family. Hers is a story of selflessness, acceptance, forgiveness, and family being more than blood.

Credit: Cornelius family

And this story is just about the sweetest one we’ve heard in a while, so in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we wanted to share it! Try to read this story and watch this video without wiping away tears. I haven’t been able to do it yet.

Paula Cornelius is described by her friends and family as big-hearted, kind, and loving. Her older daughters describe her as having an amazing capacity to love and an amazing capacity for parenting.

Credit: Cornelius family

Years ago, when Paula and her husband discovered they could not have children biologically, they decided to adopt children. Their first child was their daughter Sydney. And then they welcomed daughter Destiny into their family. But soon they realized that their daughters had biological siblings who needed loving homes as well.

Credit: Cornelius family

So, Paula being Paula, she and her husband decided to adopt their daughters’ brothers and sisters too.

In all, Paula is Mom to 13 children, ages 8 to 28, and their names alone tell the story of kindness and love within this family. They are Serenity, 8, Harmony, 14, Charisma, 10, October, 13, Caleb, 16, Josh, 17, Grace, 18, Trey, 20, Faith, 20, Victoria, 21, Matthew, 21, Destiny, 22, and Sydney, 28.

Don’t you love their names–Destiny, Charisma, Harmoney, Grace, Serenity? And we love the name October!

Not only did Paula and her husband adopt every one of these 13 children, but Paula saw to it that they could keep up relationships with their biological families as well. Paula’s experiences in adopting her 13 children and learning about their first families led her to found an organization that helps parents in need. It’s called The Lullaby House.

Credit: Paula Cornelius

The Lullaby House is a faith-based not-for-profit organization that works with families and provides items needed by young families, classes to help parents better themselves, and support for parents in need. Their mission is “to strengthen families by providing programs and services to parents which will inspire and promote generational change.”

Since January 2021, The Lullaby House has served more than 7,400 clients (more than 320 who are teen parents), distributed more than 520,000 diapers and containers of wipes to families with babies, and has hosted more than 720 attendees in classes offered by the organization.

And this is surely only a part of Paula’s story, so you can see why those who know and love her and have been blessed by her wanted to honor her in some way. That’s where Disney came in. Paula and her huge family had a vacation planned last year, but it was shelved because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Cornelius family

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When Paula opened her front door on the morning of November 12, she saw the sun shining, she felt the cool temperatures normal for Texas in November, and she also saw a member of the Good Morning America team, who immediately rushed her toward a crowd of people gathered at Paula’s Cedar Hill home. It was a crowd of friends, family, and others who have been blessed by Paula’s kindness and giving spirit. They were holding signs, and a likeness of Paula’s pretty face had been made into signs in front of the crowd of Paula’s loved ones.

Credit: Good Morning America

After showing Paula a special video featuring family photos and special words from those whose lives have been touched by Paula and her kindness, a GMA host and Mickey Mouse himself were there via satellite to present Paula with 0ne more surprise.

Credit: Good Morning America

(This is the “bigger in Texas” part.)

They surprised Paula and her family with a trip to Walt Disney World for four nights and five days. But they didn’t stop there. It’s a long way from Dallas, Texas, to Walt Disney World in Florida–almost 1,100 miles–so Disney surprised Paula with round-trip airfare for the entire family. But wait; there’s more.

Not only were Paula and her family heading to Disney World. Not only were they flying to Disney World from Dallas. But Disney and Southwest Airlines partnered together to see that the Cornelius family gets to fly on a special Disney World 50th anniversary celebration plane.

New EARidescent Southwest Airlines Aircraft

Credit: Disney

Paula said she was at a loss for words, and, she says, that’s not the usual for her. But Paula lives in Texas, where everything is bigger and even better sometimes, and that was the case on that cool November morning south of Dallas. Because just when Paula, her kids, and surely the audience watching Good Morning America thought the surprise couldn’t get any bigger, it did.

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Not only was Disney sending Paula, her husband, and her 13 kids to Disney World for an amazing family vacation, but Paula was surprised with yet another surprise: Disney wanted to send the WHOLE family! Remember the crowd outside Paula’s home that day? You guessed it–EVERYONE is going to Disney World–Paula and the rest of her 29-member extended family.


Mickey Mouse with new EARidescent Southwest Airlines Aircraft

Credit: Disney

There’s so much negativity in the world today, and COVID has brought sadness and anxiety to many, but when you hear a story like this one about a selfless mother in the Lone Star State, just living her life and investing into the lives of others with no thought of any return, well, it gives you a warm feeling. We hope it does that for you too. So many people are thankful for Paula, and we know she’s thankful for this amazing surprise.

Doesn’t Paula’s smile say it all?

It is, after all, the season of thanks and giving. At DisneyDining, we are thankful for you and for your readership.

Happy Thanksgiving from the writing and editorial team at DisneyDining: Jamie, Becky, Krysten, Paula, Caitlin, Molly, Chelsea, and Katie. We hope your Thanksgiving holiday is full of great times with family and friends, lots of good food, and special memories!

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!