BROOKSVILLE - Last year, 259 children in Hernando County were placed in out-of-home care after being abused, neglected or abandoned.
And, for the past 23 years, hundreds of children have gone to live with Linda Hoins and her husband, Patrick. The Hoins are one of 32 licensed foster homes in the county eligible to take in children in need of a place to live.
"I think it takes a special person but I think everybody has that special-ness in them," Hoins said. "It's such a rewarding thing for them to do good and see these kids do good."
Nicole Pulcini Mason of Kids Central, Inc. said the nonprofit places children in foster care in Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties. Last year, 2,000 children were removed from their homes in the central Florida area, according to Pulcini Mason.
"We try to keep kids as much as possible with their parents, or relatives if it's safe, but that's not always possible," Pulcini Mason said. "So then we go for our loving foster parents ... we want family-like settings as much as possible."
Pulcini Mason said Hernando is in better shape than Citrus and Sumter counties, which have "critical low" numbers of foster families, in part due to older county residents and the prevalence of substance abuse.
Still, the nonprofit is looking for additional families in Hernando County to step up and become foster families.
An informational event, called "Open Your Heart" is planned for Saturday in Spring Hill, as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
"The whole point of 'Open Your Heart' is to have those who live the life tell you what it's really like, to tell you the challenges, the successes, tell you why they do it," Pulcini Mason said. "Because before it was the professionals, and they sounds like car salesmen."
Hoins, who previously worked in medical billing, serves as president of The Foster Parent Association of Hernando County, a support group for local foster parents that also raises funds to make up for state funding gaps.
"It's good support. I get a lot of phone calls from people who are upset about this or upset about that ... I give them advice on where to go, where to call," Hoins said.
Both Pulcini Mason and Hoins agree one of the most difficult parts of becoming a foster parent is navigating the often-confusing bureaucratic system.
"It's an overburdened system, you just have to keep sight," Pulcini Mason said. With 941 children as verified victims of abuse last year - and nearly half of all the cases related to substance abuse - providing a safe home, even if just for a few nights at times, is the main goal for Hoins.
"You've got to put yourself in those kids' position," Hoins said. They have been through so much, even though they might sit there and be nasty to you, or curse at us, that's not their fault. I don't even know how they survived, the things they have been through it is unbelievable, and they've come this far.
"An adult could have never went through what these kids went through."
Open Your Heart starts at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday with a pancake breakfast at the First United Methodist Church, 9344 Spring Hill Drive, and lasts until 1 p.m.
Kids Central can be reached by phone at (352) 387-3424 or (352) 387-3472.
For more information on the Foster Parent Association of Hernando, visit www.fpahc.org or email LindaHoins@fpahc.org.