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SILVER CREEK – As a little girl, Patty Wicks wanted to grow up to be a mom with 20 children.

Her comment always drew laughter.

But no one is laughing now that Patty and her husband, Gary, have opened their home to 100 foster children – so far.

The Silver Creek couple even adopted four of the children who were in their care. “I think it’s shown pretty good restraint that I was able to stop at four,” Patty said.

The Chautauqua County couple has received a congressional honor for their more than two decades of foster care.

The Wickses – nominated by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. – attended ceremonies and a dinner Oct. 9 in Washington as part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s “Angels in Adoption” program.

The program honors those who have made a difference in the lives of children in need of a family to call their own. That’s the Wickses.

Patty and Gary Wicks have been foster parents since 1990.

A mother and grandmother, Patty said she always loved children. The couple’s natural and adopted children range in age from 6 to 32. An entire wall in the living room is filled with family photos.

As the holiday season begins, each of the children will return home.

This year, the children are helping out a little more than usual as Patty recuperates from foot surgery. Patty’s mom lives nearby and will help with dinner, too.

They stay in touch with many of the children who spent time with them. Patty said they have even cared for two generations in the same family.

“I simply try to get them whatever services they need and programs that will enhance their lives and help them to be more independent.”

The Wickses’ nomination for the Angels in Adoption program came from a local caseworker, Jane Sterniman, who was impressed with the way that Patty and her husband advocate for children with special needs.

Brianna, 16, has prosthetic lower legs and used to be able to eat only through a tube in her stomach. Now the energetic teenager in bright sneakers sets an alarm to be reminded to eat every two hours. Last year in school, she was selected as the Student of the Month.

At the Wickses’ household, the children, regardless of age, still enjoy games such as Life and dominos. They help with chores and keep track of daily needs with a chart on the refrigerator.

“There are moments,” Patty said in acknowledging that life with children does not always go smoothly. But her attitude is always positive. “Just when I think I have heard everything, something new happens,” she said.

There is no secret to caring for children, Patty said. “You just need to remember that they are all individuals,” she said, “and things are going to be different and require creative solutions.”

In addition to foster care, the Wickses are advocates for others who also serve children in need of a home.

“I guess that would be my message to people: If you don’t think you could become a foster parent, be part of the support network for other people who have foster children,” Patty said.

While in the nation’s capital, Patty spoke with Schumer about the need for tax refunds for people who adopt children in need. “I felt like he really listened to me,” Patty said.

Patty makes time to watch her grandchildren. Now that she’s a little older, she said, she no longer includes infants in her foster family. “My days of staying up all night with a crying baby are gone,” she said. “I love grandchildren because you can send them back to their parents’ house.”

Patty keeps active with community events including serving in the local fire department. She also attends school activities with the children, as well.

The Wicks family is well-recognized and often complimented for the behavior of their children.

The couple had taken a break from accepting new foster children to help their son Kris when he was recovering from injuries suffered during his military service in Iraq.

When asked whether the Wickses see any end in sight to opening their home to foster kids, Patty smiles.

“We have talked about stopping,” she said, “but we just don’t know.”

A quiet and friendly man, Gary just smiled and nodded.

email: citydesk@buffnews.com