American Hero: Mom

mother child foster care adoption parent
For more than 30 years, Kathy Ruggiero opened her heart and her home to abused and neglected children.

For her selflessness, The Saturday Early Show honored her as our American Hero.

Raising one child is difficult enough, but how about nurturing nine?

At 53, Ruggiero is raising nine children between the ages of 2 months and 17 years, all under the same roof.

For three decades, she's taken in children who have nowhere else to go. And it doesn't end with her adopted kids. Ruggiero has fostered 80 other children.

Now, there's a new addition to the family.

"This is our beautiful daughter, Katherine-Anne," says Ruggiero. "She comes from an HIV, Hepatitis B exposed mom, but as they all are, she's one of the greatest gifts we have."

Ruggiero's life continues at a frenetic pace. She still works full time as a North-Miami police detective and moonlights at several other jobs to make ends meet. Money is tight, but never too tight to stop Ruggiero's giving spirit.

"I know how much these children need me," she says. "As long as the good Lord gives me my health, I will never quit. My door will never be shut."

And during the holidays, that applies to anyone who needs a place to call home.

Ruggiero's home is probably where you will find those who don't have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving.

Through all her good works, Ruggiero wants her children to learn the same lesson she did at an early age.

"What I want these children to learn is, not to be takers, or receivers, [but] to be givers," says Ruggiero.

As a foster child herself, Ruggiero says she will never forget what it means to go without.

And the children are learning the lessons. They say giving back is the right thing to do. At Christmas time, the entire family helps others less fortunate.

This year, they brought holiday gifts to a nursing home. Then they made a stop to bring Christmas goodies to a grandmother trying to raise nine grandchildren on her own.

Ruggiero says her children are already learning the spirit of giving. It is a spirit she has always wanted to pass along.

"She's a great mom, and she's caring and giving and special," says her daughter Tiffany.

Her son Jamie says he learned from his mother, "being good, disciplined and helping others."

"When I'm not around, I want this to live on forever," says Ruggiero. "They learn compassion, they've learned love and they've learned caring. They know the true meaning of family."

In the end, Ruggiero says being a mom is her greatest reward.