Marylin and Hiller Suber didn’t become foster parents because they wanted to receive an award, but it was nice to be recognized as the 2021 Arkansas Foster Parents of the Year.

The Monticello couple learned they had won the award during a virtual watch party Nov. 19. They were among 10 area winners eligible for it.

Surely the Subers’ longevity and placement volume contributed to their selection. Since starting in 2000, the couple has fostered more than 300 placements, including children who have been in their home more than once.

Foster parents house and raise children temporarily removed from their biological homes by the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) because of neglect or abuse. DCFS works with the biological families to try to return the children home, but the situations are challenging and complicated. In some cases, foster children spend years in the system before being reunified with their families, being adopted, or aging out.

As of Oct. 31, there were 4,833 children in foster care, with 228 entering the system that month and 223 leaving it. Among them, 1,111 had been in foster care at least two years. That same month, the state had a total of 1,622 approved foster homes.

Marilyn, 59, and Hiller, 77, married in 1999 after being set up on a blind date by one of her friends. He was in his later 50s and she was in her later 30s, so instead of having children they decided to foster. They started with boys but after a year switched to girls when Marilyn’s niece entered the system, and they took her in.

They foster teenagers, who can be especially challenging, but the Subers are equipped for the job. Marilyn grew up as one of 12 children, so she’s accustomed to complicated family dynamics. Hiller retired from the Department of Corrections and the National Guard. He spent 25 years working in prison security, so he knows how to be tough when necessary. So does she.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes to get them to abide by our rules, but the longer they’re here they see we’re not changing, we’re going to be together on everything we do. So they don’t have a chance,” she said with a laugh.

They see themselves as mentors who give the children a chance to learn, succeed and go out on their own. They try to teach them to be optimistic despite their challenging situations.

The Subers have fostered a number of children who have aged out of the system. One is now a traveling nurse, while another is working at Facebook in Texas. One of their most recent ones is in National Guard basic training, but the Subers’ house is still her home. Hiller said some phone and come see them after they are grown. Some remember his birthday.

They’ve never felt led to adopt. Instead, they accept their temporary parental roles. After all, Hiller said, all parents must watch their children leave home eventually.

“You want to see them know what the world is about,” Marilyn said. “And sometimes they can’t get that from us. They have to go out and get it. But then they come back and tell us, they say, ‘Miss Zuber, it’s hard out there. I didn’t realize what you were trying to tell me.’”

Hiller will turn 78 in December, while Marilyn is fighting her second bout with breast cancer. This one has not been as rough as the first, and they plan to continue fostering.

DCFS is always looking for more foster homes. For more information, go to www.foster arkansas.org. You can also contact The CALL, a Christian ministry that recruits and trains foster parents, at thecallinarkansas.org or by calling 501.907.1048.

The 2021 Foster Parents of the Year wouldn’t mind the competition for next year’s award.

“I would tell them, if that’s what’s in their heart, do it,” Hiller said. He later added, “There’s a lot of children, a lot of children out there just need a mentor, need somebody to say, ‘Hold your head up. You can do this.’”

“And you tell them you love them,” Marilyn added. “That’s just what you do.”

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist published in 16 outlets in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

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