‘I am a mother to 79 kids’: Foster family brought unconditional love to youth facing hardships

By Sydney Page for washingtonpost.com

JoeAnn Ballard calls herself an ordinary person. But to her 75 foster children, she’s anything but that.

When she arrived in Memphis in 1965, Ballard, now 76, had a purpose in mind.

“I knew I wanted to help people,” she said.

At first, she was intent on reviving a run-down church and expanding the congregation. But as she took note of the disparity around her, she quickly broadened her focus to helping the poor.

She and her late husband, Monroe Ballard, started serving dinner every Sunday night at their humble home in North Memphis. It was always an open invitation, she said, and typically 20 people from the area would show up. Some started spending the night.

“Then, overnight and weekend visits eventually turned permanent,” Ballard said.

Child after child would trickle in, and the couple welcomed each one warmly. Between 1968 and 2008, the Ballards became known as “Mama JoeAnn” and “Daddy Monroe” to 75 orphans, abuse victims, runaways and young adults in need of support.

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