Betty Klein says every time she answers her phone, she hears “hey, mom” on the other end. That’s just the odds. Klein and her husband, Phil, have helped raise more than 60 foster children during the last 24 years.
The couple, 45-year residents of Sandy Springs, were awarded the city’s 2015 Humanitarian Award at its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at City Hall on Jan. 19.
The Kleins were asked by the Department of Family and Children Services to become foster parents when word got around about their visits to Grady Hospital where they would “spend hours rocking babies who had no other loving arms around them,” said Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul as he introduced the couple.
“Phil and Betty provided a home to a racially diverse group of children, some dealing with chronic and terminal illnesses, who had been shunned by society,” Paul continued. “They have lived up to the true calling of their creed.”
Paul was referring to the Jewish term Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. The Kleins are longtime members of Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, where they have logged many volunteer hours, he said.
“Twenty-four years ago Betty said our home is too quiet,” Phil Klein said. “I had no idea what that would lead to. We just never stopped raising a family. I have no regrets.”
Betty Klein introduced several of her children while accepting the award. “Khonteria is a sophomore at North Springs Charter High School. Khonteria came to live with us at 1 month. . . . She got to go home and live with her mother a short time. Her mother did pass but we’ve had her ever since and she’s our daughter. Khonteria is 16. Then we have Ty. . . I tell him every day, stand tall. Ty came to live with us. We brought him straight from the hospital, he was almost 6 months. Ty’s mother was 12. He was born at 23 weeks and weighed a pound. . . . Breanna will be 20 this week. We brought Breanna home from the hospital at 8 days and now in college.”
After the ceremony, the Kleins’ children weighed in on the award.
“I feel like they deserve it,” Khonteria said. “They really deserved it,” Ty echoed. “The award was a long time coming,” said Breanna, who added that when she looks at pictures on the wall of the children who have come and gone through the years, she still refers to them as sisters and brothers.
Dominique Wilders is one of the couple’s grandchildren, grown now. In middle school she lived with her grandparents following the death of her mother.
“I went into the home rough and rowdy, and they made me a different person,” she said. “They taught us pretty valuable lessons.”
Betty Klein said that having her grandchildren help take care of the foster children helped everyone through the grieving process.
“It was my way of grieving, keeping busy,” she said. “Every grandchild was given a child in the house and told, this is your baby, you need to read to this child at night, make sure she’s at the table, make sure her face is clean, her hands are wiped, you help wash her clothes, you help bathe her. That kept them so mentally busy and physically tired that we were able to work through those many years of sadness.”
Along with her role as a foster parent, Klein created Childkind, an Atlanta-based non-profit that works to support families in need, and volunteers at North Springs Charter High School. The Kleins are also working on creating a women’s health technology company.
Klein said her goal for her children is that they contribute to the world. “We hope they’ll use our vision to do something better and move on, not stop here. This is a jumping off point for them. I have found for us that the children that we have fostered have made us better people, made us a better family.”