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    Foster parents paid tribute

    A state agency organizes an event for hundreds of foster kids and parents, as well as their biological and adopted kids.

    By JOSH ZIMMER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2001


    PLANT CITY -- Margie and Tim New took in their first foster child right before Thanksgiving 1998.

    Since then, several more have moved in and out of their busy Valrico home, a typical revolving door experience for foster parents. They now watch over three foster kids, including two they want to adopt: 9-year-old O'dalys and her sister, 8-year-old Kiera.

    "We get a lot of blessings from it," said Margie New. "They're like love sponges. What you give to them they give back tenfold."

    Although pride and purpose show when they talk about their role, foster parents like the News often feel isolated and underappreciated. So Sunday's Mother's Day party at Lupton's Boggy Bottom Bar-B-Que Ranch just south of Plant City was extra special, they said.

    For the fourth year in a row, Nancy and Ralph Lupton opened up their Lupton's Bar-B-Que Ranch to hundreds of foster parents and kids, along with adopted and biological children. Organized by the Florida Department of Children and Families, the event shook the woods with loud music, free food, games and a festive atmosphere.

    Children sported toys, colorful beads and big smiles.

    "I had a great time," Clint, 7, said as his mother took a breather. Linda Sharpe adopted Clint, his brother, Eric, 14, and sister, Tiara, 9, years ago. Their older sister, Brittany, remains her foster child.

    Nancy Lupton, who estimated the attendance at 700, including 100 volunteers, said she and her husband are more than happy to host the gathering. Ralph Lupton, she said, was adopted when he was 5 years old and understands the challenges of foster care. "It makes me feel very lucky there are people out there who care," she said.

    Hillsborough County has about 1,500 foster children, said Greg Ford, Children and Families' local foster parent liaison. Around him were people like Lynn Whitt, the Hillsborough County Foster Parent Association president who cares for 10 kids in her six-bedroom Brandon home. The department's goal is to limit foster parents to no more than five children.

    But the biggest deficit involves those kids Mrs. New said are the toughest to care for: teenagers.

    Ford agreed."We're in desperate need of homes," he said.

    Planning the annual event takes year-round attention, Nancy Lupton said. Those attending said it gets better every year.

    The Luptons and other volunteers don't balk at the task. And what better day to celebrate foster parents than Mother's Day?

    "You can't ever get paid enough for what moms do," Nancy Lupton said.

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