Ethel Adams of Calvert County, a foster parent for 27 years to more than 100 children, was among 24 of Maryland' Most Beautiful Parents honored yesterday at the state's first Kids' Convention.
Held at at Towson State University's Towson Center, the convention featured arts and crafts, science and music, as well as information on a range of serious topics. It continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
At a picnic reception outside the convention, Mrs. Adams recalled rearing two of her foster children from infancy to adulthood after they were abandoned by their parents, in addition to caring for nine of her own children in the large seven-bedroom home she and her husband built in 1951 in Owings, about four miles from the Chesapeake Bay.
She has remained in close touch with almost all of her children, she said, except for two boys who went to Germany for adoption.
"I've never turned down a kid," she said. "I've never had any serious problem with a kid. I've never had to put anyone out." In addition to support from her family, she said, "when kids come to me, we have a good serious talk about what they can expect from me and what I expect of them."
Some of her foster children were handicapped, like the girl she raised from age 2 to 22 who was mentally retarded as a result of chicken pox. Others were abandoned, abused or had behavior problems.
"It's a great satisfaction, because I like people, and through the grace of God I've kept my health," said the 69-year-old grandmother.
Another honored parent was Billie Rae Webb, 57, of Marion in Somerset County, who has raised 11 children and works at the Coulbourne Center, a long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility for adults. In addition her job as a clerk at a drug store, she attends Wor-Wic Tech Community College in Salisbury seeking a degree in chemical dependency counseling.
Maj. Claude Woodard and his wife, Mary, of Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, were cited for adopting children with mental and physical handicaps.
Another group honored at the Kids' Convention was the Youth Ambassadors: middle and high school students chosen from around the state who came to Towson State University Friday night, said Nancy S. Grasmick of the governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families.
In the center of the gymnasium yesterday, the young ambassadors gathered to discuss issues concerning young people. The session was filmed for review by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Dr. Grasmick said. Some also volunteered to act as buddies for younger children at the Kids' Convention.
The younger children attending yesterday said they liked the art projects and music, the Maryland Science Center's hands-on exhibits, and the snakes, turtles and owls from the Maryland State Parks Foundation's Scale and Tales nature program.
"It's really nice: like a museum," said Jeannine McElroy, 12, a seventh-grader from Baltimore, as she tried out the science experiments.
Especially popular was the Maryland State Police demonstration "The Convincer" -- a car seat on a downward-slanting track that let the children feel how the seat belt holds them in a low-speed crash. Although more than one youngester changed his mind after being buckled in by a patient state trooper, most of the children took the ride and listed it among the convention's top attractions.
"The best thing I like is seeing the snakes and turtles," said an enthusiastic 8-year-old, Kevin Hupka, a third-grader from Pasadena. "And I rode in the seat, too. I was scared, a little bit, when I crashed." He also displayed psychedelic sunglasses he had colored and pasted, complete with rose-colored cellophane lenses.
His friend, Roger French, said he liked "just everything, 'specially riding in the seat."
The children lined up patiently for face-painting and arts and crafts tables, where they made windsocks, watercolor paintings and other take-home projects.
The booths included information on serious topics from government agencies on drugs, teen pregnancy and education, and by volunteer groups in health, foster care and other service programs, as well as a few commercial vendors.
On the stage, the Kinderman, a dancer, led children in dances. "I liked when I danced," said a beaming 6-year-old, Avon Crawford of West Baltimore, afterward.
Attendance figures weren't available, but one volunteer said he expected at least 5,000 kids by today, while others said the crowd far exceeded their expectations.
"It's been busier than I expected," said Louise Tanney, a volunteer in the state Department of Education's booth. "I've been talking to people all day."