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Mother to many: A foster mom's story
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Brenda Sumner is going to get a lot of love for Mother's Day.

But then, that's no different from any day.

The Oxford resident has been handing out hugs and motherly advice for 24 years now, with 31 foster children at one time or another in her rambling country home. Well, 29, actually, but one child came back two more times.

She adopted two and is now mothering four grandchildren, 5-year-olds Jasmine and Austin, 10-year-old Madison and 16-year-old Triston. She's also taken care of five older people at one time or another.

The grandchildren are enough for now.

She's cared for Triston off and on for 10 years, Madison all her life and has had the younger children for four years.

Even when she's tired after work, she stays active and involved. She's there for Girl Scout meetings, sports, working with them on homework, going to the park, whatever they need.

"God just gave me a gift to be able to take care of people," she said. "I love to take care of children, because I love to be a teacher. I try to teach them that even in times of adversity they can overcome just about anything that they set their minds to.

"It takes a long time for them to learn that moms and dads can't always take care of them, or want to take care of them, but they know that I am the constant in their life, all of the time."

The home is kid comfortable. Her house is the neighborhood yard, where everyone congregates. No wonder: There's everything there a kid could want. A two-car garage has been converted into a playhouse for all the kids.

There's also a tree house, a pool and two dogs.

Five times she and her first husband, John, tried to have children of their own. One pregnancy went to six months, but she lost them all.

They had friends who were foster parents. Sumner was concerned, because she didn't know if she could give up a child in her care eventually, but they gave it a try.

They dealt mostly with siblings, trying to keep them together.

In 1987, they started with three children in their home, a 3-year-old boy, an 11-month-old girl and a 12-year-old girl.

It was a trial.

"I've never met children that were so street-wise," she said. "The little boy was three. He cussed worse than any sailor that I'd ever met in my life, and I was a military brat."

The 12-year-old was accustomed to doing anything she wanted, and the 11-month-old cried constantly for three days.

Sumner cried, too. She didn't know what to do. And then she prayed.

The next day, she got up and cooked breakfast and laid down the law.

From that point on, the relationship worked and Sumner has excelled with all the kids.

She cared for one of the first children through her home whose parents were prosecuted for taking drugs while pregnant.

The child had no name. They gave her a nickname, Tassie.
Tassie was moved to another home. Sumner wondered why.
A month later, she lost her husband and a foster child in a car wreck over Christmas holidays in 1989.
It was of course devastating.

But Sumner told her pastor, "If Satan was trying to destroy me today, he picked the wrong day and the wrong person, because God's going to win.

"I don't know what he has in store for the girls and I, but we are going to win. It's going to be great, and that's the truth.

And my life has been great. I'm not sitting here saying it hasn't been without trials and tribulations, but it sure has."

Most of the foster children were removed from her home at the time to help her cope.

She and her husband had already started to adopt the two girls that remained in her care, and she eventually was able to complete the process.

Whether they were there for three days, or for a lifetime, all the children were accepted and made a part of the home.

She and her second husband, Carlton Wright, were married 17 years. They are now separated, but remain best friends.
She's had six foster kids at one time, and up to 13 during the holidays when their siblings would stay with them, too.

Sumner perseveres.

"I never thought I'd be raising children at my age, but you know what, somebody has to do it."