Womans Day: Love doesn't cost my door never closes

Selfless mother-of-five Noelene has welcomed more than 50 foster children into her home.

When Noelene Lever speaks of her family, her face lights up with pride. Not only has the widowed mum raised five children of her own, she’s been an unofficial foster mum to 50 others.

The 78-year-old, who was recently named Barnardos Mother of the Year, tells Woman’s Day how her home in Redfern became a safe haven for children in need.

“The kids started bringing their friends home to stay. Some of them didn’t have safe homes to go to, so I told them our door was always open. I’d have eight staying at a time and I’d sleep on the couch if the kids needed a big bed. It didn’t worry me – so long as they all had a place to lay their head.” 

Life hasn’t been easy for Noelene, after she lost her husband in a horrific car accident when she was 37. She says she had to put her heartbreak aside and take control.

“I couldn’t sit back and let the horrible situation take control of me,” she says. “I had to focus on my children’s wellbeing and ensure they were safe, happy and protected.”

As well as taking on two jobs, Aboriginal woman Noelene soon became an unofficial foster parent to children – both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – in need of care, support, and most importantly love.

One of those precious children was Sarina Kapeli, 39, who she took in when she was only two weeks old. “My friend from work said, ‘Can you look after her for a couple of weeks?’” Noelene, who now lives in Forster, NSW, recalls. “Of course I agreed.” 

Not only has Sarina, now 39, been by her side ever since, Noelene welcomed Sarina’s birth mother Jean into their home. “She always made sure I knew where I came from,” mother-of-three Sarina says. “She didn’t want me to lose my connection with my family.”

Having recently retired from her role as an unofficial foster mum, Noelene’s focus is still her family, including 30 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandsons!

Now, the invincible mum has an important message to share. “Love doesn’t cost and the door never closes. Even after they leave, it’s still open.”


Woman's Day congratulates all the finalists!

Australian Capital Territory
At just 38, Dianne Brookes suffered two strokes that left her paralysed on her left side. Undaunted, Dianne learned to cope and raised her three girls on her own. Now 49, she has spent the intervening years giving back, volunteering at Camp Quality for children impacted by cancer, at St Vincent’s food vans helping to feed the homeless, and at Orange Sky doing laundry for homeless people. 

At 84, grandmother-of-10 Joan Bellinger should be enjoying retirement. Yet when her son-in-law was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia four years ago, she put her own needs aside to step in and support her daughter’s devastated family around the clock.

Snjezana (Sue) Brcic and her family arrived in Australia in 1999 after fleeing Bosnia, then living as refugees in Germany for eight years. Despite lean times Sue, 50, is a longtime volunteer and has now found the courage to further her education, while helping her daughter through depression and a law degree.

Western Australia
When Faye Gill's fourth child was born completely deaf and blind, doctors told Faye she would never communicate. But determined Faye has taught Lauren to fingerspell, sign and read braille. Today, the 57-year-old grandmother-of-three continues to be the primary carer for Lauren, and is the founding member of the Western Australia Deaf/Blind Association.

As well as raising two sons, Cindy Rigby has rescued more than 90 foster children. Some stayed in her care a few days, others for years. Despite setbacks, the 61-year-old has remained their “pillar of strength”, always.

Northern Territory
When children from Alice Springs need a safe place, they turn to Jennie Ryan. The 57-year old mother-of-four opens her heart and home to children of all ages in her local area.

South Australia
After growing up in poverty, then 22-year-old single mother-of-two Sarah Baillie decided to turn her life around for her kids. Now married and a mum to four, Sarah, 38, has one at university and works at a special school.

(This article was first published in the Woman's Day.)