January's Jefferson Award winner is a mother to more than 60 kid - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

January's Jefferson Award winner is a mother to more than 60 kids

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COTTAGE GROVE (WKOW) --  Bernadette Cole of Cottage Grove has found her true calling, as a mom.

Not just to her own 5 children, but to more than 60 foster kids as well.

"Just providing them with the love , nurturing and support that I give my own children," she says.

For more than 18 years, Bernadette's invited girls into her home who've run into trouble along the way or just needed a stable environment.

Stephanie Freaner is one of them. "I came from group homes, shelters. She didn't want anyone to feel like they were outside. She wanted everyone to feel welcome in all aspects."

But what's even more remarkable, is that even though Bernadette's official duties as a foster parent may end, her role as mom never does.

"Just because they age out of care and leave her home doesn't mean they leave her family," says foster care consultant Michelle Palay.

Bernadette's mentoring and support continues for as long as the girls need it, through finding jobs, stable housing, even raising their own families.

"Encouraging them to be the best that they can be, being the mom that their kids deserve , being active and involved in their schools and community," says Bernadette. "Somewhere along the line, it wasn't that I was a foster parent or that this was a foster situation, we just became family."

She's now not only mom to her own kids, dozens of women and their husbands, she's also a Grandma.

And she adds one more addition to the family, with her fiance, Terry.

"I had no idea initially how much I would grow into the person I am, how the kids would change my life," she says. "I never had an idea of how  consistency, love, nurturing and a safe environment could change the direction of a child's life."

Bernadette's changed the course for dozens of young women.

That's what makes her our Jefferson Award Winner for January.


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