About 26 years ago, when Jennie Bailey was a teletype clerk at the old Health Education and Welfare Department, she saw something that troubled her and sparked what she now calls her special mission.
"A lot of troubled parents came to the office looking for the welfare department, which was then a few blocks away," said Bailey, who at the time worked for the Voice of America, which was located at the old Health, Education and Welfare building at Fourth and Independence SW. "They brought with them groups of children whom they couldn't care for. They needed support. I just felt there was a need."
To help fulfill that need, Bailey became a foster parent for the Prince George's County Department of Social Services. Since 1957, Jennie and her husband John, now District residents, have cared for about 50 children--some of whom were awaiting adoption--from Prince George's County. The couple also has raised several handicapped foster children to adulthood.
Today, the Baileys will receive the "Parents of the Year" award from a national nonprofit organization that provides information and training for parents of handicapped children.
The group, Closer Look, will also present a "Legislator of the Year" award to Sen. Lowell P. Weicker (R-Conn.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on the handicapped, for his work supporting the needs of the handicapped.
"I had a lot of love to give," Jennie Bailey said of her work with foster children. "I had had two children of my own and didn't want any more. But I didn't want to sit around brooding. Being a foster parent kept me busy. It was fulfilling. I get the most pleasure by helping others."
Her husband, John, supported and joined her in caring for the foster children. Although they moved to the District 18 years ago they still take in foster children referred by the Prince George's County social services department, said Mirram Fuchsberg, a social worker at the department.
"They have taken difficult children with serious problems. They're outstanding people--nurturing, warm, devoted and committed," Fuchsberg said.
Children with severe learning disabilities, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and psychological problems have found a sweet home at the Baileys', she said.
Over the years, the Baileys have cared for children from many backgrounds in their three-story, five-bedroom home on Brentwood Road in Northeast Washington. Not all of the children have been wards of the state. Parents that the Baileys did not know have asked the couple to keep their children when they had nowhere else to turn.
Currently three handicapped adults and two teen-agers, one of whom is also handicapped, live with them.
John Bailey, a maintenance engineer at the Washington Urban League, said life as a foster parent often has been a struggle. "The problem often is the way other people treat the children. When we moved to D.C., the neighbors didn't particularly like the idea of having a foster home on the block. They looked upon foster children as criminals. They're not the criminals, . . . most are just children who have been rejected by their parents and who could become criminals without help."
"Rejected children usually are the ones who become criminals," his wife added. "So, if we are to fight crime we have to start at home. The only way to fight it is with love. Discipline, direction, food, clothing, advice--all that's love."
One of the Baileys' foster children called her, "The best momma a child could have."