An East Kildonan woman who has spent nearly half a century caring for young people is being recognized for her efforts.
Eileen Thiessen, who has spent 46 years as a foster parent, is one of eight finalists from across Canada up for Walmart Canada’s Mom of the Year Award, which was launched earlier this year.
All of the finalists will be flown to Toronto for a weekend with their families including an awards gala on Sept. 30.
Thiessen — who raised nine foster children from the time they were babies including seven who are mentally handicapped — was chosen from 16,909 entries and was nominated by her daughter Carol.
Thiessen said she and her husband Ken have taken care of a number of other children, but for shorter periods of time.
The overall Mom of the Year winner will receive $100,000 for their chosen charity. In addition, each of the finalists will receive $10,000 to spend on themselves, while seven will receive an additional $10,000 for a charity of their choice.
Thiessen plans to donate her share of the money to Special Olympics Manitoba, where she is currently the head coach of Team Manitoba’s track and field squad.
With the help of Arcane Horizon Inc., five of her foster kids still live in a house down the street from her, and Thiessen makes a point of visiting them daily and getting together for Sunday dinner.
Thiessen said she was surprised to learn that she had been nominated for the award.
"I was kind of shocked at first, I really didn’t know anything about it," said Thiessen, who is the only finalist from Manitoba.
"I’m not really one for the spotlight. I don’t like people making a fuss. I really don’t know what to say."
Thiessen became a foster parent while living in Fort Frances, Ont. after she decided to start babysitting. She quickly learned that there was a need for area families to open their doors to local children.
"It’s changed my life completely. There were so many children that needed care in that area, they asked us if we would open an emergency group home," said the grandmother of five.
Carol said she nominated her mom for the award because she gives so much and never asks for anything in return.
"The fact that she’s finally being recognized is important. Somebody has to. She’s been putting other people first her whole life," said Carol, who lives in Fort Garry
Being involved with the Special Olympics since 1971, Thiessen knows how difficult it can be for the organization to raise money, and said she’s happy to be making a contribution to the athletes.
"I just think it’s thrilling because I know how hard we work to raise funds," she said.
"It costs thousands of dollars just to send athletes to nationals."
For more information on the award visit www.momoftheyear.ca.