Sarina Kapeli (R) nominated her foster mother Noelene Lever (L) as NSW Mother of the Year. (ABC News: Antonette Collins)
Noelene Lever was in her mid-30s with five young children when her husband was killed in a car accident.
But this invincible Aboriginal woman from the New South Wales’ north coast went on to foster more than 50 foster children in a home where she says “her door never closes”.
Now at the age of 78 she is being recognised for her life-long love and dedication to children in need, by being named NSW Mother of the Year by the national children’s charity Barnardos Australia.
For her though, the act of mothering appears to come naturally.
“I was on my own but I saw a child in need, my heart went out to them. Love doesn’t cost and a lot of them are just asking for that little bit of love, trust and little bit of understanding,” she said.
Noelene said the authorities tried to persuade her to adopt the children she fostered but she resisted because it meant the children would have been forced to sever ties with their birth parents and siblings.
“Back in those days, I was asked to adopt but I said no because I didn’t believe in them not seeing their families,” she said.
“I believed in these children still knowing the family and I used to take them to their family.”
From a ‘couple of weeks’ to 39 years
One of those children she fostered was Sarina Kapeli who she took in as a newborn at just two weeks old.
Sarina Kapeli was brought up by Noelene Lever from when she was just a two-week-old baby. (Supplied)
Noelene moved to Sydney after her husband’s death to find work to support her family and she was running the Aboriginal Children’s Service when one of her clients asked her to go to the hospital with her to collect her baby.
“She said ‘can you look after her for me for a couple of weeks?’, and you know what? When I took her in my arms, she was just a baby, she was asleep and then opened her eyes and looked at me and smiled and that was it, she won me over,” Noelene said.
She remained living with her, finished Year 12 and became a youth worker.
Now at the age of 39 and with three children of her own, Sarina Kapeli nominated Noelene as Barnardos 2018 Mother of the Year.
“She’s got all the qualities of the beautiful heart, she’s humble, she’s giving, always thinks of others and not herself, children are her main priority, she’s special,” she said.
Noelene said she always treated her foster children as if they were her own.
Noelene Lever was surrounded by her family when she was announced as NSW Mother of the Year. (ABC News: Antonette Collins)
“I told my own kids when they walk through that door, they are treated as family,” she said.
“They get the same amount of love as what I give you and you don’t get any more than what they do, you are all equal.
“My kids understood that, they understood where I was coming from.”
And not all the children she fostered were Indigenous — she said the very first child she fostered was Caucasian.
“That don’t make any difference,” she said.
“With me, colour, religion, language, what country you are from doesn’t make any difference.
“Kids are kids, and with me I’d rather be there for them than see them go down the drain, even if it’s a sacrifice.”