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Published July 11, 2012, 11:30 PM

Ulen family creates extended family through adoption and foster care

ULEN, Minn. – Melissa Green wanted to help children. It was a feeling that led her and her husband, Darcy, to foster care.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

ULEN, Minn. – Melissa Green wanted to help children. It was a feeling that led her and her husband, Darcy, to foster care.

For about eight years, they’ve opened their hobby farm to children – some for a short respite stay, some for many months, and for four children, forever.

Melissa says they never intended to adopt when they started providing foster care. Now she and Darcy have six children – their two biological sons and four adopted siblings – and continue to take in up to four foster children at a time. Currently, an 11-year-old boy, 17-year-old girl and a teen mother and her 6-month-old live with them.

Opening their hearts like this has created a family with a wide range of ages and different personalities, all crammed into the family’s eight-seat Honda Odyssey.

“I really like taking the kids in and helping them, making a difference in them,” Melissa says.

She gets letters sometimes from the teen girls who stay, thanking Melissa for what she’s done, though she says all she does is go about day-to-day life, things like family dinners and conversations.

“I don’t really know what I did, but it made a difference to them and that’s what counts,” she says.

‘God’s plan’

The Greens were on call when then 15-year-old Maddy, 11-year-old Jerell and 11-month-old Shawn came to stay Nov. 15, 2005. They’d been doing foster care for a couple years at that point.

Shortly after her birth in August 2006, sister Lexi joined her siblings with the Greens. Social workers had called on Melissa and Darcy’s 10th anniversary.

“I always told my husband that was the best anniversary present,” Melissa says.

While it wasn’t the original plan, the Greens adopted the four siblings in 2007, exactly two years after they first met the oldest three.

The kids just fit into their family like a puzzle piece, Melissa says, adding that it would have broken the hearts of their sons, Mason and Dalton, to see them go.

“We just fell in love with them. They are the best kids. I cannot imagine not having them,” she says. “We’re blessed.”

Now 21-year-old Maddy works and lives in a group home in Moorhead. Jerell, 18, graduated high school and plans to attend college in Moorhead. Shawn is 7 and Lexi, 5.

Melissa says the decision to adopt was heavily weighed. She and Darcy questioned whether they could financially take on four more kids. What would Mason and Dalton give up?

But eventually the question became, “How can’t we do this?”

Continuing to foster

Even after permanently adding children to their home, the Greens continue to provide foster care through North Homes Children and Family Services, a therapeutic foster care agency that Melissa says requires more training and experience with kids.

Melissa says she’ll keep doing foster parenting as long as she enjoys it. She says she thrives on the busyness of a large family. She also manages convenience stores in Felton and Ada, Minn., that she and her family own.

She says some people have misconceptions about foster parenting.

“People have this idea in their head that they’re very troubled kids, they’re bad kids,” Melissa says. “They’re all just kids. They’re normal kids who’ve had a rough road.

“I can take one of the toughest kids. You put them in a family setting and love them and they can be everything and above,” she adds.

Jeanine Maier, a social worker with Clay County Social Services, began working with the Greens when she worked at Lakeland Mental Health.

She describes the family as accommodating and nonjudgmental, treating each child uniquely.

“They just really are willing to help anybody,” Maier says. “I can’t think of any story that I have run by her or child’s history that has really scared her away. She seems really willing to give it a shot.”

Melissa does wonder how the coming and going of so many children, some who become like family, will affect her own kids. She hopes it will give them big hearts, to go out and do good things.

She encourages anyone who has an interest in doing foster care to get more information.

“My mom always tells me I can’t save the world,” Melissa says. “People think it’s overwhelming. But it’s what I enjoy doing. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”