HAYWARD (KPIX) - A Hayward woman has been a mother to more than 80 babies over the years through foster care.
Linda Owens has cared for a 7-week-old baby girl since she left the hospital as a newborn. She is the 81st infant Owens has brought into her home in 34 years as a resource parent.
"It's a challenging job, but very rewarding," Owens said.
At 78, the retired grocery department manager fosters the babies as a single parent. Sometimes she fosters two infants at a time.
She keeps a supply of baby gear and clothes on hand; some, bought with her own money.
And although she gets paid for her work, it's a labor of love.
"This is what God's handed me a gift to do," said Owens, who has loved taking care of babies since childhood.
A number of the newborns come to her exposed to drugs in the womb. Some have developmental delays. Many don't sleep through the night.
Mia Buckner-Preston is the Placement Division Director of the Alameda County Department of Children & Family Services, which places children in foster homes.
"Her experience, the care, the love she provides to the babies, it's immeasurable," said Buckner-Preston.
Among the county's 500 resource parents, Owens is one of the longest-serving.
"She's in a category almost all by herself," said Buckner-Preston.
That experience shows according to pediatrician Mika Hiramatsu. Owens has brought many babies to her over the years.
"She's always been very optimistic, always determined to give these babies the best possible start in their lives," said Dr. Hiramatsu.
And their parents get the best possible start, too.
Erica adopted a baby girl Owens fostered 12 years ago. Owens shared good advice about the baby she'd taught to sleep through the night.
"She's in her crib. Leave her alone. I know you want to play with her but if you wake her up, you'll start interrupting her sleep," said Erica.
Today, Erica and her daughter still visit with Linda and share the tween's milestones.
"She's turned out beautiful," Owens smiled. "It makes you feel good that you fulfilled your job."
And when her job is done, and it's time to turn the babies over to their birth or adoptive families, letting go can be heartbreaking.
She remembers them all. The oldest is now 37. She's also cared for three sets of twins.
As for the baby she carries in her arms who will soon leave, Owens said, "I can give her a kiss on the forehead and wish her the best, and say, 'I love you.'"
So for her love and care for 80-plus babies in more than 30 years as a resource parent, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Linda Owens.
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