In Vredenburgh, Alabama, 78-year-old Thelma Kennedy still takes care of a foster daughter who came to live with her 32 years ago at the age of 12. Her name is Rita, and she was one of more than 20 foster children taken in by Thelma. Thelma took in these children even though she was raising six children of her own. But they all loved having the other kids around.
Thelma and Rita now live in a simple, four-room house along a dirt road. There is usually a dog sleeping on the front porch and there is a garden growing greens in the back. Thelma claims she was “born to do it,” when asked about the many lives she helped shape through the years. She has been given several awards for her service through the years, including a special one from former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions.
But perhaps what she values the most are the letters she continues to receive from all of those children she guided. In Rita’s case, her biological mother was raped by her own father, and Rita was diagnosed as being developmentally delayed. At the age of 12, after the man who raped her began harassing her, she was taken from her home and put into Thelma’s care. At that point, Rita’s mother begged Thelma to always take care of Rita. And Thelma promised she would.
Thelma actually took in many children over the years who had suffered trauma at home. She felt it was more or less a calling for her to take care of these children. During her own childhood, Thelma lived in extreme poverty and knew of the hardships some of these children were going through. Thelma would sometimes round them up and they would go out singing at churches and other places in the county.
Today, Thelma is still active with her own church, and takes Rita practically everywhere she goes. She also attends church revivals, helps neighbors mow their yards and visits those who are sick in the hospital. She was quite an incredible woman many years ago, and she’s still quite an incredible woman today.