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Retired Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Thorpe, front, second from right, and his wife Iris, front, second from left, pose with their adopted children in their Port Deposit home. The couple recently received a national award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for serving as foster parents to nearly 50 Maryland children, including the five they adopted, over the past 15 years. Clockwise from top, Shanice, 16; Courtney, 12; Maurisha, 15; Ashanti, 4; and Barry, 6.

A retired Aberdeen Proving Ground noncommissioned officer who spent 20 years making a difference in the lives of Soldiers was recently honored for the difference he started making in the lives of Maryland children long before he left the military.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Thorpe and his wife Iris recently received the National Adoption Excellence Award for Individual and/or Family Contributions from the National Resource Center for Child Welfare and Data Technology, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, during its national conference in Arlington, Va., Aug. 4.

Thorpe retired from the Army in 2002 as a training specialist in the Directorate of Instruction with the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools' Ordnance Mechanical Maintenance School. He still serves APG Soldiers as a civilian training specialist in the OMMS Advanced Automotive and Recovery Department.

Thorpe and his wife have been foster parents for 15 years. In that time they have provided a temporary home for more than 50 children, five of which they adopted.

Their commendation reads in part that they accepted "many of society's most challenging children into their home," several of whom were HIV or drug exposed or had suffered various levels of abuse or neglect.

Thorpe said that with two sons of their own - Erik, who now is 23, and Maurice, age 25 - the Family decided together that they wanted to open up their home to a needy child.

"We wanted to adopt a daughter for years but with the Army's transient lifestyle it was a problem," he said.

When he arrived at APG in 1992 and was informed he would be in place at least three years they knew it was time, he added.

The couple interviewed and received training with Family Children Services of Central Maryland.

Their first adopted child was Shanice, who Iris said they they wanted sight-unseen.

"We had already picked out the name Shanice although it was spelled different," she said. "When they told us the baby's name we agreed on the spot." Shanice was followed by their first foster child, 4-month-old Maurisha. Thorpe said that although they knew the agency had established a program for HIV and drug exposed children, they were surprised by the challenges the baby faced. Maurisha had a feeding tube in her stomach and was hooked up to breathing and heart monitors. She required constant monitoring and care and was given 6 months to live.

"They gave us a quick class on how to feed her and monitor her and then we took her home," Thorpe said. "Back then she was in and out of the hospital every two months."

Under their care, Maurisha thrived, and today she is a normal 15-year old.

Maurisha became the second child they adopted.

"After a couple of years, we decided to adopt her; to give her a name so she wouldn't be put back into the system," Thorpe said.

The rest of the Family includes Courtney, 12, who they received when she was 10 days old, then Barry, 6 and Ashanti, 4.

Iris is the founder and president of the Family Children Services Foster Parent Support Group of about 50 parents who undergo training four times a year and often meet for outreach and networking. She leads discussion groups and is often sought out as a source of guidance and information by new foster parents.

The Thorpes also received a congratulatory letter from Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski who recalled her early career in social work as a foster care case worker.

"Thank you for keeping the dream of America alive for all our children," the letter read in part.

Taking care of Family

Thorpe served as an instructor with the 143rd Ordnance Battalion and then a training instructor and developer with the Directorate of Instruction before retiring.

A native of Washington, D.C., he and his wife, who hails from nearby Alexandria, Va., were friends before he entered the military and were married during his first tour of duty at Fort Hood, Texas. He credits his upbringing and his wife for his desire for a close-knit Family.

"We've always been real close, it's how my parents brought us up," he said. "Iris has always loved children and now I'm the same way. I had always wanted a small Family but now I'm going on my eighth child," he said, noting that their sixth adoption is pending.

With a younger brother who is a retired master sergeant, Thorpe said his love for Family is the same love that grew from years of mentoring Soldiers.

"I've always been involved in training Soldiers and caring about Soldiers and taking care of your Family is no different," he said. "Both take hard work, dedication and discipline which was not a problem because my father and mother gave us guidelines which were reinforced by the Army and which I still live by."

He said they were honored by the award and what it means.

"It gives recognition to the agency and to our children," he said. "We want people to know that there are plenty of kids out there in need of a caring home if you have it in your hearts."

Page last updated Thu September 10th, 2009 at 09:27