Cindy Schlegel has a lot to celebrate on Mother's Day.
A mother of six, she and her husband Bill decided early on she would stay at home with their children.
She made the most of that time, not only raising her six children, but also taking care of hundreds more as a foster parent.
"If I'm going to be an at-home mom I may as well make it worth it," she said.
This May, as part of Foster Care Month, Cindy and Bill Schlegel have been awarded the Governor's Foster Care Award, recognizing their dedication as a foster family.
St. Croix Foster Care Coordinator John Bretl nominated the family, highlighting their sensitive and respectful care.
"Despite the demands associated with parenting six children, the Schlegels have always had room in their hearts and their home for foster children as well," he said in the nomination. "The Schlegels welcome foster children into their home and invite them to be a part of their family without asking or expecting anything in return."
Bretl said the couple, who lives between Baldwin and Spring Valley, accepts children and their families without judgment.
"The Schlegels provide each child who enters their home with a sense of hope and optimism for a better future."
The Schlegels were first licensed in Pierce County 35 years ago, when their first birth child was only 6 months old. A year later, they became licensed in St. Croix County, and have been a foster family there ever since.
They knew many people who were fosters, including Cindy Schlegel's parents, and wanted to join them.
"Everyone is given gifts, and kids are my gift," Cindy Schlegel said.
Cindy Schlegel was surprised to learn they had received the award.
"I feel like we don't do anything different than other people do," she said.
Over the years the Schlegels have cared for hundreds of children.
"Over 600 for sure," Cindy Schlegel said.
They originally started doing full-time care before changing over to emergency care.
Emergency care foster families are on-call day and night to take in children. The respite can be planned, Cindy Schlegel said, but usually it's children in immediate need.
"It can be the middle of the night," she said.
The stays are generally shorter, such as one overnight stay, but can extend into weeks or months.
The Schlegels have taken care of children of all ages. Some they picked up as newborns from the hospital, and others turned 18 while in their care.
Cindy Schlegel said it could sometimes be challenging to find the right balance with their birth children.
"You never know what kids are going to take," she said. "Hopefully it's the good stuff."
Beyond that, she said they didn't face other challenges.
"Really we just roll with the punches," she said.
Cindy Schlegel said she loves watching the children come to life and blossom.
"Sometimes you just get to watch them get it," she said.
She also enjoys having the chance to see the children they've taken care of as adults. The Schlegels keep in touch with several.
One child that they picked up as an infant at the hospital is now 5 years old and living with his father. The Schlegels still see him, and have a good relationship with both him and his father.
"He still comes to visit, him and dad," she said. "So it's really neat to see him."
Being a foster family is rewarding, Cindy Schlegel said. "It just gives you a fullness of self and life and it always feels good to do for other people, and just be kind," she said.
Though it can sometimes be tough, kindness can make a difference. She said many kids are in need of the stable environment foster families can provide. "I just hope that our sense of normal can help ground some of them, our version of normal," she said.
Whether it's long-term or short-term, it can still make a difference, Cindy Schlegel said.
The county has amazing social workers, and Bretl is fantastic to work with, she said.
"It's just a wonderful experience to be a foster parent," she said.
St. Croix County has an ongoing need for foster parents. For more information contact Ben Tomandl at 715-246-8218 or John Bretl at 715-246-8317.