Hannah Ford, or Miss Hannah as she’s known in the tiny town of Marion, South Carolina, found herself feeling isolated when her five children began moving out on their own in 1983.
The quiet stillness just didn’t sit right with the retired seamstress, who lost her husband nearly two decades earlier.
It was around that time that a friend suggested Ford look into becoming a foster mom.
“She said, ‘Hannah, you would be a good one,’” Ford told TODAY Parents. “So I started doing that.”
And she hasn't stopped.
Nearly 40 years later, Ford, now 86, has had 189 kids come through her home. She adopted seven of them, including Erica Woodberry.
Woodberry was 12 when she and her younger sister went to live with Ford. The siblings had spent more than four years bouncing between foster homes.
“I’ll never forget the first meal she cooked for us — it was pork chops and I’d never tasted meat that was so good,” Woodberry, 48, told TODAY.
“She sat there at the table asking us questions about ourselves,” Woodberry said, her voice cracking with emotion. “We weren’t used to that.”
Ford is "a very special person,” she added.
Woodberry's biological sister, Carlotta Ford, 41, couldn't agree more.
"What I've always admired is her patience. She never yelled or screamed at us. She would just give you a talk so you knew how to act," Carlotta shared. "She's impacted so many lives."
Kendall Givens-Little moved in with "Miss Hannah" when he was 17. He described Ford as having a calming presence and remembered feeling instantly comfortable around her.
"She knows how to build trust. She was like a mother figure to me and I needed that," Givens-Little, 38, said. "I think a lot of people get into fostering for the money, but Miss Hannah genuinely loves to help."
Kendall-Givens, like many of Ford's children, is now thriving. After earning degrees from both Claflin University and Howard University, he is now director of strategic communications at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, (According to research, less than 10% of foster youth graduate from college.)
Woodberry owns her own T-shirt business, a home daycare and devotes much of her time to organizing clothing drives for those in need. She said she learned to give back by watching Ford.
Ford, who will celebrate her 87th birthday in December, is currently fostering two young men: a 16-year-old and a 10-year-old. She is also caring for her adopted children Lawanda, 37, and Lawrence, 36, who were born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Blair Cieluch, a family support coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Social Services, has been working with Ford since 2017.
“The foster children who have been placed in her home hold a special place in her heart,” Cieluch told TODAY in an email. “I know she’s left an everlasting impression on them, because she sure has left one on me.”
Ford chuckled when asked if she has any plans to stop fostering. (There are no upper-age restrictions as long as you’re healthy.)
“I don’t see any end in sight. As long as God continues to give me strength and guidance and wisdom, I’ll keep doing this,” she said. “There are just too many children out there in need. They’re coming out of situations where they’re not fed properly, they’re not loved properly. They need me and I need them.”
Woodberry joked that Ford has more energy than she does.
“I can’t keep up with her,” Woodberry said. “She’s still out there working in her yard, cleaning out her flower beds. I’ll be about to pass out and she’s still going. She never complains.”
“I have nothing to complain about,” Ford said. “I’m truly blessed.”
This article was originally published on TODAY.com