Saturday, June 13, 2009

'Once they are in our house, they're OUR children'

'Mom' to many
Pike, Farah Jadran. Eagle Newspapers, June 11, 2009.

Mary Hudgins stands in her North Syracuse home with her many Mother's Day gifts.
For more than 12 years Mary and Bobby Lee Hudgins Sr. and their four children have called their North Syracuse residence home. But for more than 17 years, 26-plus children have called the Hudgins “mom and dad.”

The Hudgins have always had a lot of love and care to give even after they had their first son Keith, 40, and their triplets Bobby Lee, Kenneth Lee and Calvin Lee, now 34 years old.

Even though Mother’s Day passed almost two weeks ago, the Hudgins dining room table is still covered in cards, flowers, gifts and balloons given to Mary by the numerous children that still call her “mom.”

“I’m still celebrating,” she said.

As she remembered her own childhood growing up in a family of seven children, she had only her father with her life. Although she didn’t have a mother figure, there was neighbor named Miss Clara, who she still thinks of as a mother.

“Miss Clara had one child that she adopted, but no other children,” Hudgins said. “But she looked out for other kids in the neighborhood.”

Like Miss Clara, Hudgins said she truly believes that her upbringing has made her into the loving woman she is today.

“It’s like the parallel to where I am today,” she said of Miss Clara’s presence in her life. “She taught me many things, but most importantly, she taught me about the Lord.”

Firmly believing in Christianity, the Hudgins family attends New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Syracuse with several family members and two foster children that are in their care presently.

Because of their faith, the Hudgins never lost hope in one foster child in particular, Allen. Although each foster child is different and most have different needs that parents need to attend to, Hudgins said she couldn’t believe the things that one of their foster children went through.

Allen came to the Hudgins’ home when he was 11 years old. No matter the problems Allen had, the Hudgins wanted to make sure they gave him a good life for as long as he wanted to be with the family.

“Once they’re in our house, they’re our children,” she said. “We’re devoted no matter what.”

Hudgins said she sees Allen as special because he stayed with the family even after he aged out of the foster program at age 18. He finally felt ready to live on his own when he was 22 years old.
Now in his late 20s, Allen still calls the Hudgins “mom and dad,” even after many years of struggling to overcome challenges for a normal family dynamic.

“We had to teach him so many things,” she said. “He didn’t know how to use a bar of soap and take a bath, and about nutrition.”

She remembered the first time she realized his eating habits when she was making liver for dinner.

“I was cleaning it [liver] and seasoning it when he asked me why I was doing all of this,” she said. “He said that he was used to eating it raw.”

Baffled by the fact that this young boy had eaten something like liver raw made her feel more compassion and a stronger need to turn him around. Hudgins said the environment that children grow up in has such an impact, that Allen was starting over from scratch since he had never had a good example to follow. His nutritional habits were such that he would eat bacon, sausage and eggs all uncooked.

“Even though this happened, he was never ashamed,” she said. “And he knows his mom and dad are proud of him.”

Allen had other issues like hoarding food because he grew up with the fear that he might not eat the next day. Hudgins said she would make 10 or 12 sweet-potato pies at a time with the intention of freezing most of them.

“I remember finding out that he took a few of the pies to eat at the bus stop,” she said. “Those pies only had the batter poured in them so they were raw.”

Like any bad habit, she said it took time and a lot of love and care to help Allen break old habits and form new ones.

Aside from poor eating habits, Allen was never given proper attention while growing up.

“He wanted attention so bad that he would follow me all around the house,” she said.

Allen had a hard time understanding boundaries at first, but the family pushed forward to help him learn. The Hudgins experienced hard times while Allen was in school because his behavior was so erratic, there were several times when they thought they couldn’t help Allen and should just give up.

“Even though we wanted to give up, we thought about how if God didn’t forgive us for our sins we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “My strong conviction in God made us keep him.”

As the Hudgins began to believe in Allen more and more, he started to thrive by attending church more and acting as a respectful family member.

Hudgins said Allen’s living situation before coming to their home was unbelievable.
Allen also struggled with his faith at first because he started to ask where God was in his life when he was eating out of a trashcan or going without a bath.

“Now he is so involved with church, even more than I am,” she said. “He plays in the church’s band and tells others about his relationship with Jesus.”

Because of Allen’s upbringing before the foster care, Hudgins said she truly believes that he has come from the worst of times to the best.

“That in itself is a blessing,” she said. “These children are the purpose of my life.”

Hudgins said she has always had a soft spot for the children and the elderly in her life. As she has come to care for so many kids, she wanted people to know that she and her husband had been taking care of children even before stipends and foster care became what they are today.

The family had been taking in children from time to time no matter if it was for a few days, weeks or months.

“This is my calling from God, the ministry of my life,” she said. “It’s all about the kids and loving those kids.”

While some parents experience “empty nest syndrome” after all their children have grown up and moved out, Hudgins said their home will always be filled with kids that they will love forever. She recommends fostering to those that feel they have love to give.

“Become a foster parent please, because there’s no need for people to feel a void in life,” she said. “Share the love you have because God didn’t give us love to sit on it.”

Even people scared to try fostering should try it, she said. Her faith in God urges Hudgins to care for the children of the Lord.

“I always think of the book of Matthew that says, ‘Suffer little children and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven,’” she said.

Throughout her many years of fostering, she said that people who believe they can’t do something should try it because they can do it, and the blessing would be insurmountable.

“You’ll be doing God’s will and he will richly bestow blessings upon you,” she said.

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