Mark Ogle is a great dad.

Just ask his kids — all 57 of them.

As a longtime foster parent, Ogle has opened up his home — and his heart — to the foster children of Rogers County for eight years.

“Karen and I have been foster parents for, I think, about eight years now,” said Ogle. “Eight of the most rewarding years of our lives.”

Ogle and his wife first became involved in foster parenting 10 years ago, when a friend from CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) told them of the need in Rogers County for foster homes.

“At the time, we didn’t have any children of our own, so we thought we could open up our home to foster kids,” he said.

Once the couple began classes through DHS, they realized the need for foster homes to be even worse than they thought.

“At the time, we didn’t think we were going to make it past our first training class — it was so sad,” he said. “Some of the situations you see these children coming from — physical abuse, neglect — it’s truly heart-breaking. The first class really opened our eyes up to how great the need for foster homes was.”

But the Ogles did stay with the nine-weeks of classes, finishing in 1997, and receiving their first foster child (a boy) in 1998.

“It wasn’t long before we got two more foster children, another boy and a girl — we went from having no kids to having three in just a few weeks,” Ogle said, smiling.

The Ogles quickly realized that there was more to foster parenting than they’d expected.

“In the beginning, it was a little overwhelming — it was a joy, but overwhelming,” he said. “At the time, there wasn’t an organization locally that dealt with the needs of foster families. The Rogers County Department of Human Services Child Welfare did a great job answering our questions, but there are some things only another foster parent can relate to — so we formed the Rogers County Foster Care Association.”

Since 1999, the RCFCA has served as a network for new foster parents, offering education and support.

“I think one mistake that a lot of new foster parents make is that they’re afraid to ask questions,” he said. “They’re afraid that if people think they don’t know the answer to something, they’re not good (foster) parents, but everyone has questions. RCFCA helps to answer a lot of those because everyone in it has had to deal with similar questions.”

As a foster parent, Ogle’s home has been a harbor for children ranging in ages from newborns to teens, girls and boys, and from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, but they all need one thing — a loving home.

“There’s no way I could turn down any of these children — I’m not bragging to say that foster parents are often the lifelines for some of these kids,” he said, adding “We never judge their ‘biological’ parents situations, we just offer our home as a place for the kids to know they’re loved and respected and safe.”

While in foster care, the children are provided health insurance through DHS, as well as a monthly stipend to assist additional needs.

“Even though you do receive assistance, it’s in no way adequate to provide for all the monthly needs of children in today’s times,” Ogle was quick to point out. “Regardless of any reimbursement, the foster parents I know would continue to take care of these children even without reimbursement.”

Although Ogle’s family has grown to include three of his own children, he has no intentions of giving up being a foster parent.

Despite the occasional difficulties, Ogle said being a foster parent has been one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.

“There do get to be some burdens with the red tape involved, but once you’ve been a foster parent for a while, you learn how to get through it,” he said. “The blessings far outweigh any of the burdens when it comes to foster parenting.”

One thing he never quite gets used to, however, is letting go.

“No matter how long they stay with you — whether it’s a few months or a few weeks or only a few days — they’re always with you in your heart,” Ogle said. “You go through a lot of emotions as a foster parent — you take the children in, care for them, love them, and eventually have to let them go — but you know that you’ve provided them, for however long, a loving home.

“People have asked me how we can do that, but, knowing the situations that some of these children come out of, I ask them ‘How can we not?’” he said. “It is tough to let them go — you always remember them — but if we don’t offer them our homes, if we don’t get involved, who will?”

For more information about becoming a foster parent, contact the Rogers County Department of Human Services Child Welfare at 283-8300. For more information about the Rogers County Foster Care Association, call Ogle at 342-2282.