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Redmond Ridge couple cared for 76 children, receives award from Amara
From changing diapers and school runs to driving lessons and graduation days, there are many different moments for parents to be part of during their children’s lives.
For Karen Madison, her favorite part is the first few months when they are still newborns.
It was this love of taking care of newborn babies that led her and her husband Ted Madison to become foster parents in 1972. They did it for about 16 years and during that time, the couple — who currently live in Trilogy on Redmond Ridge but spent 32 years living in Issaquah — took care of 76 children.
The Madisons’ stint as foster parents began a few years after they adopted their daughter and son through Medina Children’s Service (MCS), which is now called Amara. Since Karen and Ted were still licensed as foster parents, they contacted MCS to let the organization know they wanted to be foster parents.
“It was kind of my idea,” Karen said. “I always wanted to have an orphanage.”
As a foster-to-adopt nonprofit organization, Amara — which began in 1921 as an orphanage — serves children from infancy to the age of 18 and focuses on finding permanent homes for children in foster care. For their part, the Madisons provided temporary, receiving care for children until they would be placed into their permanent homes.
“They did this 76 times,” said Molly von Mitschke Collande, director of communications for Amara. “They took care of 76 children.”
This was in addition to their own two children.
Because of this commitment to serving and taking care of children, Amara honored Karen and Ted at its annual fundraising luncheon at the beginning of the month with its Stella Mae Carmichael Award.
THE SPIRIT OF STELLA MAE
The award is named for a woman who served as a foster parent for hundreds of children. Von Mitschke Collande said Carmichael always empowered the children in her care, never letting them pity themselves or see themselves as victims. The award was created in 2008 by one of Carmichael’s former charges as a way to honor his former foster mother by honoring families who embody her spirit.
“After looking at the Madisons’ file, it was pretty clear,” von Mitschke Collande said about figuring out the winner of this year’s award, listing the sheer number of children they cared for as well as their humility and dedication as a few deciding factors.
In addition to the award, Amara gave the Madisons a special edition of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a book that holds a special place in their hearts.
Karen said this came about when their daughter Kristin and son David, who always knew they were adopted, began asking questions about their biological, or “real,” parents. Karen said she and Ted were their “real” parents and pointed to the story of the Velveteen Rabbit.
“If you’re loved, you’re real,” she said, adding that receiving the special edition of the book was “just so cool.”
Karen also said she and Ted were humbled when they learned about the honor.
“We were surprised about that,” she said.
Von Mitschke Collande said this is because the Madisons do not see what they did for those 16 years as a big deal. She said when they speak about their time as foster parents, the Madisons are very nonchalant about it. Von Mitschke Collande begs to differ.
“Everybody doesn’t do this,” she said.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
While being a foster family may not be for everybody, it was a way of life for the Madisons. Throughout the 16 years, the family took in children — from newborns to 4-5 year olds — for anywhere between a few weeks and a few months. Although 76 children over the span of 16 years is a lot, it wasn’t as if children were always coming or going.
“There would be gaps,” Ted said.
But it would not be unusual for a child to arrive at the Madisons’ home with little advance notice.
“Ted would come home from work and say, ‘Who’s this?’” Karen said about these new arrivals.
The Madisons usually only took in one child at a time, but there were times when they had sets of twins or siblings.
And it truly became a family affair as Karen and Ted’s children pitched in, as well. The couple said Kristin and David enjoyed showing off their foster siblings to their friends and never thought twice about being on diaper duty. Karen said Kristin became a pro at taking care of newborns and established quite the reputation throughout their neighborhood.
“Everyone wanted her as a babysitter,” Karen said.
A TRANSITIONAL FAMILY
The Madisons never considered adopting again after Kristin and David. Instead, they chose to be the transitional family for children awaiting to be placed permanently. Karen said this was to show the kids that someone always loved them at every stage of their lives.
“Someone had loved ours for two weeks,” she said about the waiting period between when their children were born and when they could take them home.
Because of this specific role they played, whenever the foster children moved on to their permanent homes, the Madisons celebrated. Their last day with the Madisons was their “Happy Day.” Just as the days Kristin and David came home with Karen and Ted were their “Gotcha Days,” Karen said.
The Madisons didn’t really keep in contact with any of their foster children, but Karen said that was because of their role as a transitional family.
“We were the first phase of their lives and the next phase was theirs,” Karen said. “We did what we had to do.”