Poole had the children choose chores. They could not leave for school until they finished all morning tasks, like cleaning bedrooms. Daily, they swept the sidewalk down to the bus stop, as curious neighbors watched.
Geoffrey Oja, 25, lived with Poole for 10 years and remembers her explaining to him as a 5-year-old how chores were good training for a job someday. Although he didn’t understand then, he now says the discipline helped prepare him for his current job at a Target store.
Oja credits Poole for loving him even after he pushed her down as a teen and ran off in his pajamas. Policemen brought him back in handcuffs. Oja recounts: “Grandma told them, ‘You need to get my kid out of those handcuffs. He needs to eat and go to bed so he can do his homework in the morning.’”
She taught him he didn’t need to resort to anger to solve problems. And he caught her love of music as they sang blues and gospel songs together while she baked peach cobbler.
Tikonwaun “Tiki” Blackamore, 47, arrived with her younger brother Cory when she was 14, staying until age 19. She remembers the trauma of being taken from her birth mom but says, “Grandma never made us feel like our mom was a horrible person. She respected that love we had for her.”
Blackamore laughs with Poole about past memories—like the time at church when a woman collapsed, believing she “got the Holy Ghost,” and squeezed her eyes so hard her eyelids turned inside out. Blackamore says she “freaked out and told Grandma, ‘I think Mrs. H. is possessed!’”
She praises her foster mom for helping her learn to express herself verbally. That, combined with Poole’s compassion for children, influenced her to become a high-school adviser.
Poole simply loves kids. She grew up among a large extended family in Arkansas where her affection for children blossomed: “There were always children around. I was the teen who wanted to braid the girls’ hair. And I’d take all the kids to the circus. … I liked helping them.”
She never married, and after practicing nursing for 20 years in Chicago, she took another nursing job in St. Paul, where she soon started fostering full time. Some kids stayed weeks, others for years. Some wore diapers; others wore an attitude. All needed consistency and patience.
Naimo Ali, 30, arrived at age 13. She loved when Poole fixed her hair or they folded laundry because Poole just let her talk. Poole was the first person who asked why she was so mad at her dad: “She helped me let go of bitterness … and forgive him.” It was Poole who encouraged her to complete two college degrees—and who twice flew out to California for graduations.
Chaltu Basha lived with Poole as a teen after running away from other homes and ending up asleep on a bus stop bench. She sneaked away from Poole’s home, too, but Poole always forgave her and let her return, sometimes after driving across the city to find her.
Basha, 30, stayed until turning 21. She birthed her son while with Poole, and has added two daughters: “I wish my kids could live with Grandma because she taught me so much. … She never gave up on me.”
She tells how Poole put $100 into a bank account monthly for every foster child so when they left her home each would have money toward more schooling, an apartment down payment, or furniture. Poole also used her own money to take them on vacations—sometimes a cruise, sometimes driving to her Arkansas hometown.
She insisted all her children attend church and Sunday school and join choir or praise band. She gave each a Bible imprinted with the child’s name.
Some of Poole’s foster kids phone her daily. Most call at least on Mother’s Day. Many visit, like today.
She looks around at them contentedly and quietly says, “I’m ready for more.”