Carolyn Young, a Montgomery County special education teacher, said, "I always knew I wanted to have a lot of children."
Having grown up with only one sibling - a brother - she gave birth to a daughter during her first marriage and adopted four children as babies during her second marriage before her husband, Isom, died of cancer in 2002.
"It seems like the more I give, the more that comes to me," said Ms. Young, who continues to care not only for Adam, Monica -- nicknamed "Joy" -- Jasmine and Jamia, ages 19 through 13 respectively, but also two foster children, all in her husband's honor.
"He built a house big enough and filled it up with children," she said. "God knew I was going to need kids to keep me going. I don't have enough time to sit down and feel sorry for myself because of them."
Ms. Young thinks nothing of piling up her brood into the family's 10-passenger van and taking the youngsters to activities at Victory Christian Church in Gaithersburg or traveling long distances "to expose them to as many new experiences as I can."
Last week was busier that usual as Ms. Young prepared for Joy's senior prom, which included a sleepover with half a dozen classmates, as well as her own gala recognition.
Ms. Young is among eight foster parents around the region named as 2009 Foster Parents of the Year. She was feted Saturday along with several hundred other foster parents by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and the Freddie Mac Foundation at a gala for Foster Parent Appreciation Month.
Since 2003, through funding from the Freddie Mac Foundation (sponsor of "Wednesday's Child" on NBC-4, WRC-TV), COG has honored area foster parents with a gala awards program held annually each May. The event, held this year at the Grand Hyatt Washington, is "an opportunity for regional leaders to thank foster parents who give of their hearts and homes to help children grow, achieve, and become good citizens," according to Kamilah Bunn, "Wednesday's Child" program coordinator.
COG estimates that 6,000 children are in foster care throughout the region.
"The Freddie Mac Foundation is privileged to help honor our region's foster parents. They provide vulnerable children with something so precious: love, stability and support at a time when they need it most," said Ralph F. Boyd Jr., president and chief executive of the foundation.
"We want to show appreciation and gratitude to the region's families who care for our most vulnerable and fragile citizens, abused and neglected children, because COG is dedicated to helping all area children lead happy, healthy and productive lives," said David Robertson, COG executive director.
Earlier this month, Prince George's County officials also treated their foster and adoptive parents to an evening of "Mystery Dining" at the Blair Mansion. The county has more than 600 children in foster care and is hoping to build a pool of resource parents to provide safe and stable homes for vulnerable children.
"I have witnessed firsthand the difference caring adults make in a child's life, and I have enormous appreciation for the special families who open their homes to a child in need," said Karyn T. Lynch, director of Prince George's County Department of Social Services.
In that spirit, Ms. Young said she has asked all her children to promise that they will have a child and adopt a child, "so we can keep this thing going and branch out and help other children."