Noelene Lever has been named Barnardos NSW Mother of the Year — she has fostered 50 children!

ABORIGINAL mum Noelene Lever who has informally fostered more than 50 children has been named Barnardos Mother of the Year NSW 2018.

When Mrs Lever’s five biological children started bringing friends in need of a place to stay to their Redfern home, she welcomed them with open arms.

“I’d say yes because I wanted them to come to a home, and so I knew where they were and I could keep an eye on them,” the 78-year-old said.

Widowed at 37, Mrs Lever worked two jobs to support all of her children. She was also heavily involved with the Aboriginal community in Redfern, but never expected any recognition or awards.

“I was shocked when I found out I was the winner for NSW,” she said. “I’m used to being in the background.”

Mrs Lever was recognised at the NSW State Parliament on Tuesday when she was named Barnardos NSW Mother of the Year.

She was presented with the award by NSW Early Childhood Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, MLC and is now in the running for the Barnardos Mother of the Year to be announced in Sydney in May.

NSW Governor David Hurley and his wife Linda Hurley also attended the ceremony.

Even though Mrs Lever has raised scores of children, she said she immediately knew her daughter Sarina Kapeli, 39, was responsible for the surprise nomination.

“She’s the only one cheeky enough to do it,” Mrs Lever said.

Despite the banter, Ms Kapeli, who also attended the ceremony, said she remains grateful for all her mother has done to raise her.

“My mother is my role model and I am the woman I am today because of her,” she said.

In addition to providing her children with food, clothing and a place to stay, Mrs Lever also went through the added effort of keeping them in touch with their original families.

She told them stories about their birth mothers, and when possible, took them for visits.

“She always made sure that I knew where I came from,” Ms Kapeli said. “This was very important because she didn’t want me to lose my connection with my family. By doing this, she gave me knowledge of my identity — of who I am and where I belong.”

Mrs Lever considers all the children who pass through her home to be members of her family.

She stays in touch with them even after they leave her care, although some shy away from her insistence that they call her “mum” at first.

One of her sons was initially reluctant, but with some coaxing, even he couldn’t resist her matriarchal spirit.

“I was having tea and he came up behind me, and he put his arm around my shoulder, and he said, ‘Sarina, take a photo of me and Mum.’ That was the first time he called me ‘mum,’ and I just grabbed his hand and held him,” Mrs Lever said.

Her care has even crossed generations.

One day Mrs Lever was walking to the medical centre in Redfern when she bumped into a daughter she had not seen in about 20 years.

The woman was pregnant at the time, and asked Mrs Lever to help raise her child.

“I thought she was joking,” Mrs Lever said. “A month and half later, I get a phone call saying, ‘Noelene, we’ve got a present here for you.’”

Mrs Lever is retired from her unofficial foster business, but that baby is now 12 years old and in the care of one of Mrs Lever’s other daughters.

Although her children are grown, they have not forgotten the love Mrs Lever freely gives.

“I love her so much and I am thankful for how she has raised me,” Ms Kapeli said.

(This article was first published in the Daily Telegraph Australia and was written by Alyssa Meyers.)

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