When Sylvia Ashong first held her now adopted 4-year-old daughter Valerie, she remembers how small she was for her age.
"She was so tiny," she said. "She was four months, looking like two months; she was a premature baby."
Along with her brother Ian, 4, and her sister Dyan, 5, Valerie was born into a troubled home and shortly after, put into the foster care system where they waited patiently for a good home to find them.
All you need is love, John Lennon promised more than 40 years ago. Mostly that's true, but sometimes there are children like Dyan, Ian and Valerie who need just a little bit more.
They found the kind of love they needed only two months after Valerie was born, when Ashong became their foster parent in 2008.
Four years later, the children are enamored with their adoptive mother as they follow her through their Salem Road home and cling to her side.
"I love my Mama; I'm happy," said Ian.
Ashong decided to put her love for the siblings on paper and signed up to adopt the children December 19 of last year. She said the decision to adopt was easy.
"I've been a foster parent to many children, but they really stole my heart," she said.
Under foster care, Ashong would take the children to visit their mother. Although Ashong cannot say what was wrong with the children's mother, she did say she appeared to be getting better.
"Their mom was OK for a while, but then the courts terminated her rights because she disappeared; that led me to adopt them," she said.
The adoption was finalized May 1. Ashong said the adoption process is very rigorous. After an adoption manager review her, the children and her financial status, she then went to court to argue her case.
"We went there (court) and they stayed so close to me; they are clingy kids," she said. "The judge saw them grabbing me and saying, ‘Mama, Mama.'"
The foster parent journey
After establishing herself as an interior designer, Ashong began to work from home and decided to donate her time to giving back.
"I wanted to do something for society, so I went into an agency in ‘06 to see if they had kids," she said. "I decided to be a foster parent, because I love kids."
Ashong said she promotes becoming a foster parent, but warns that the road is difficult.
"A lot of times, we don't know the full details of what situations these kids are coming out of; we just know they need love," she said.
Valerie, 4, and Ian are special needs children and the difference from raising them to her own child is vast, Ashong said.
"My child wasn't a special needs kid, and I was also married then, so I had help," she said. "I'm seeing a lot of things I didn't see in my child. You need a lot of patience for this, but you just do what you got to do."
Along with her three adopted children, Ashong is also taking care of her mother, her daughter and her granddaughter.
"We're all a big family here," she said. "They know my granddaughter and daughter as their aunt and sister, and I'm the mother they know."
Ashong said she doesn't hide the fact she's not their biological mother and any questions they ask about it, she answers truthfully.
"The oldest girl (Dyan) said one day, ‘You're black, I'm white,' and I said, ‘Yeah you're right, you can see, but God loves us all," she said. "Because if they ask questions, you got to tell them and let them know."
Ashong said she has no plans of adopting or fostering anymore children in the future, but hopes to encourage those who want to.
"I know I'm not no spring chicken anymore, and people think I'm crazy for taking in little little kids," she said. "But I love them and if we don't help them, who will?"