WINCHESTER - Winona Powers isn't the typical mom remembered on Mother's Day.
Over the past nine years, she has been a mom to 98 children at the Henry and William Evans Home for Children Inc. in Winchester, where she works as a house mother.
Marc Jaccard, the home's executive director, calls Powers the "the quintessential mom." Her hugs are legendary and her companionship prized by her former charges. Children seek her out. She always says "I love you."
Known to many kids and staffers as "Noni," the 54-year-old Powers was the first person to ever tuck Lori Cumberledge in at night.
"That's special," said Lori, now 26 and living near Clarksburg, W.Va.
It's so special that Lori, who was 15 when she came to the Evans Home, chose Winona and her husband Mike to be the parents of the bride at her May 2007 wedding, which took place the same weekend she graduated from Shenandoah University.
Founded in 1949, the Evans Home offers an alternative for children who can't live with their own family and who wouldn't thrive with an adoptive or foster family, according to the nonprofit charity's website.
"Noni" inspires spontaneous displays of affection, too.
The side window of the Evans Home van is decorated with the words "Amanda Loves Winona," courtesy of Amanda Hilbrand, a former resident who still lives on the property in the Lloyd House, which was built for Evans Home alumni.
Amanda, 18, wrote the message when she knew Winona was having a tough day.
Amanda said she did it "just to surprise her."
Winona texted Amanda with a message of thanks: "That just made my whole day."
Just like her own kids
Winona's husband is also a house parent.
The pair have a room at the home, where they live for a week at a time, alternating their duties with another couple. This year, just like last year, they spent Mother's Day there.
The children at the Evans home are "just like our own kids," said Winona, who maintains a home in Cumberland, Md.
Thirteen children currently live at the home, and three alumni are in the Lloyd House.
"I think I get too attached sometimes," she admits. But, some of the kids don't have their own parents to turn to or any place to go outside the Evans Home for the holidays. "They don't have anyone else."
She and Mike came to the Evans Home after having two children of their own and providing foster care for others. Their biological children are now grown, and the couple has two grandchildren.
At family functions, "if you go looking for Winona, you'll find her with the kids," Mike said.
A lifetime of mothering
Winona said that when she was 11 or 12 years old she would mother her toddler nephew without a second thought.
Winona is "the best second mom I've ever had," said Amanda, who came to the Evans Home at age 15.
Amanda said if she doesn't have to work, she's at the Evans Home every day that
Winona's there - the older woman is one of her favorite people.
No matter what, Winona is there for her, she said.
Aside from being tucked in at night, one of Lori's favorite memories is Winona helping her arrange her wedding veil.
Lori, who lived at the house until age 19 before heading to the Lloyd House for several years, said Winona also sought out something blue for her special day. When she thinks of Winona on that day, it "touches my heart," Lori said.
"There's no words to explain" the experience of being chosen to serve as the parents of the bride, said Winona, who could only describe it as awesome
What makes her special
Winona considers what it would be like to be in the children's shoes as she cares for them.
Many things make her special, said Evans Home staffers. "Her hugs," said Kris Short, program manager.
"She's got that magic about her personality," added Laura Regan, program director.
Children gravitate to her, Jaccard said, including his own kids, who always want to come to visit the home when Winona is there. His 11-year-old daughter craves "Noni" time, he said.
Winona also watches the 6-month-old child of one of the alumni living in the Lloyd House when the child's mother is at work.
If a child's birthday falls during one of Winona and Mike's weeks off, they still call to say happy birthday, said Collette Hawes, administrative assistant at the Evans Home.
"We're kid people," Mike said. "We just love the kids. We always have."
But they don't force affection.
Every child is unique
Each child is different, and Winona said she tells the kids, "If you want a hug, you can come to me."
She also doesn't judge the children when they come to the Evans Home. She said she likes to get to know children before even looking at their records - she doesn't want the record to color her thinking.
When new children come to the home, they can see the others gather around Winona and tell her about their days, Mark said.
As the other children are taking showers and readying for bed, she then turns her full attention to the child new to the home, asking him or her to tell her about themselves, Mark said.
That kind of care is "what lets me go home at night," he said. The parenting is top-notch and "Winona is leading the charge," he said.
Structured, but fun
The environment at the Evans Home is different than regular foster homes, Winona added. "It's pretty structured here." Still, she said she was probably more strict with her own children than she is at the home.
The structure helps the children feel safe, said Winona, who enjoys summers with the kids the most. That's when they go swimming and to barbecues and picnics.
She'll take children to movies on weekends and they'll go flea marketing with her, too.
She smiled as she recalled how one year, all the boys woke up early to accompany her on a Black Friday shopping trip.
A mom's reward
She treats all the children the same to be fair, she said. And the ones who looked like they might have fallen through the cracks unexpectedly call her and offer thanks.
One boy at about age 15 told her that she and Mike didn't know what they were doing. Years later, he called and apologized for what he said and now stays in touch.
Those kids are the ones who will often contact her to wish her a happy Mother's Day or happy Thanksgiving.
Winona said she does feel like a mother to all the kids.
That's apparent to those who work with her. Winona has seen a lot of faces at the Evans Home over the years, and Hawes said "Noni" loves every one of them.
Contact Stephanie M. Mangino at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star