Maternal mission

Jim Day
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Tammy MacKinnon feels a calling to care for children

Dylan, Evan and Alyssa give mom Tammy MacKinnon a loving embrace. The Cornwall mother has two biological children, two adopted children and has fostered more than 30 children.

Many have observed that being a good mom is one of the most demanding jobs.

For Tammy MacKinnon, the maternal role can, and has been at times, quite a chore. However, above all she sees being a devoted mother as nothing short of a true calling and a cherished one at that.

Sure there have been challenges in raising and caring for many, many children for a woman who describes herself as being intense and not particularly patient.

But the 39-year-old Cornwall mother has devoted a good portion of her life to providing the most loving and caring home to two biological children (Caleb, 15, and Dylan, 13), two children adopted from China (Evan, 9, and Alyssa, 8), and more than 30 foster children.

“It’s really the conviction I have that no child should be without loving parents,’’ said MacKinnon.

That conviction may earn her the title Mom of the Year.

A nomination by her husband, Chris, led MacKinnon to be narrowed down to one of the eight finalists chosen out of some 17,000 nominations in a national competition put on by Walmart.

She, like the other finalists, will receive $10,000 to donate to a charity of her choice. She chose the IWK Health Centre Foundation, in large part due to the personal connection she has with the facility that has done such a wonderful job dealing with her son Evan’s cleft palate.

If she wins the competition — the top mom will be named on Sept. 30 — a whopping $100,000 will be donated to the IWK on her behalf.

Whether she wins or not, she will receive $10,000 for herself. She thinks that money could go a long way towards adopting another child.

Chris made quite a pitch for his wife, but really all he had to do was list all that MacKinnon has done and continues to do.

Chris notes that MacKinnon started an adoption coalition to provide assistance with adoption issues, information, support groups for pre- and post-adoption, and creating awareness about adoption.

MacKinnon believes she has influenced about 20 families to adopt.

MacKinnon, adds her husband, set up an adoption website, established an organization that helped raise money for playgrounds in Chinese orphanages and is the treasurer for a Canadian group helping poor children get an education and healthy meal every day in the Dominican Republic.

MacKinnon works part time as a community coordinator for Sobey’s and runs her own small sign business that promotes family and love. She also devotes time to the soup kitchen in Charlottetown, making a point to involve her children in the community to help foster in them the value of giving.

“She’s relentless in the pursuit of a meaningful life for her children and any children she comes in contact with,’’ said Chris.

“Her home and yard is never closed to the neighborhood children...I cannot say enough good about this mom...when most people stop and relax, she does not.’’

Making the short list as Mom of the Year is a pleasant surprise for MacKinnon.

“Oh my God — shocked,’’ she said. “For us, this is just our normal life.’’

Interestingly, MacKinnon was just two years old when her own biological mother abandoned her.

Born in Peterborough, Ont., she grew up in a community called South Range in Digby County, N.S. raised by her father George Marshall, a retired carpenter who ran a construction business, and her stepmother Lynda (the one she has always called her mom), who is a retired elementary school teacher.

Life was great, she recalls, with her two sisters and her brother. A close family, the clan did a great deal together.

Across the street lived her grandmother and great inspiration, Lorraine Marshall.

MacKinnon came to take as quite natural her Grammie’s regular practice of taking in foster children, more than 100 in total over the years, in addition to raising five biological children.

She observed her grandmother, noticing the kindness, the patience and consistent softness of voice. She noticed too just how far a regular dose of love and stability could go in bringing out the best in a child.

“Every foster child she had always called her mother — they still do,’’ said MacKinnon.

She concedes she lacks the patience of her grandmother. The same level of care and love, though, is there in spades.

MacKinnon says she and her husband, who she describes as even keeled, both place high expectations on all their children, whether biological, adopted or fostered, to be respectful to everyone.

“Consistency is the number one thing that you have to do,’’ she said. “We don’t have children that come in here and kick and scream at us.’’

MacKinnon says she relies on providing negative consequences, such as cutting TV privileges, when a child behaves poorly.

On the flip side, she always makes a point of rewarding positive behavior, perhaps more so when exhibited by her foster children considering they may come into the home toting a fair share of baggage.

She started fostering when her first biological child, Caleb, was just five months old.

She has gone on to foster children ranging from just days old to 14 years of age with some staying for as little time as a weekend and one as long as eight years. She has cared for as many as six children at the same time.

“She is definitely a valued member of the foster community,’’ said Mike Henthorn, who has worked as MacKinnon’s social worker for foster care for the past 10 years.

“She has lots of energy. She is tireless in her work...She really cares about all the children that she has helped. She has an exuberant personality and a warm feeling that the kids respond well to.’’

MacKinnon says some people think she is a bit off her rocker to want to foster even more children. She, on the other hand, questions why people would not want to do all they can to help as many children as they can.

No amount of personal sacrifice, she stresses, is too much when measured against the value of a human life.

“I don’t (ever) want to forget there our children in great need,’’ she said.

Organizations: IWK Health Centre Foundation

Geographic location: China, Charlottetown, Peterborough South Range Digby County

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Recent comments

  • jody
    September 14, 2012 - 11:21

    This is such a wonderful story, you do so much for children wether your own or not. You are truely a remarkable women and you desreve to be mother of the year and i wish you the best of luck. even if you don't win remember there are people out there that think you are still mother of he year.

  • Anon
    September 09, 2012 - 16:52

    I have only informly met this woman - she fostered one of my students. The child only stayed with this family for a short time, but the experience left a lasting impression because even 6 months later, the child cherished a photo of a birthday party and had written on the back "This was the best day of my life. I wish I could go back there." Thanks for all you do and the difference you have made and continue to make in the lives of many children!

  • Ed Gallant
    September 08, 2012 - 13:21

    Kudos to both of you, and also your children, whom I suspect must be cut from the same cloth. Regardless of the Sept. 30th outcome, you are all winners. Congratulations!

  • Sylvia
    September 08, 2012 - 09:12

    This must be a very happy home. Those children are so lucky. They will develop into fine adults thanks to such a loving caring atmosphere. I hope that Tammy wins the competition, but even if she doesn't, she's already a winner. Good luck Tammy. How nice of Chris to nominate you. He must be a fine husband. It's so nice to read a good news story like this.

  • Justanother Islander
    September 08, 2012 - 05:45

    I was pleased to see Tammy's tribute to her grandmother and parents in influencing her concern and involvement in the lives of those abandoned or neglected by their parents. The Marshall clan is known well beyond South Range for their hospitality and opening their homes and lives to those needing "family". It's how faith values have positively affected the lives beyond a third generation. Tammy & Chris deserve respect and support for sharing their home, selves and family with so many. God bless.

  • fabfive
    September 07, 2012 - 21:59

    "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world." - a line from a poem first published in 1865 by the author William Ross Wallace. The world needs more "Tammy's'..and Chris' too :) Beautiful story!