Tawnya and Bruce Groen's days overflow with lesson plans, sippy cups and calls of "mom" and "dad."

Life is more hectic than what they imagined when they married over 20 years ago. But then a life dedicated to helping nearly 50 children is bound to be that way.

The Groens on Saturday received one of the county's three Foster Parents of the Year awards as part of the annual March for Children, a walk to end child abuse.

The couple, who were high school sweethearts at the former Tucson Christian High School, have adopted 10 children and provided a foster home for 39 more over the last decade.

Keith Brunson, a case specialist with Pima County Family Drug Court, nominated Tawnya Groen for being a "tireless and selfless" advocate for children and their families.

Brunson came to know Tawnya when she helped a young father become reunited with a young child the Groens were fostering. Tawnya, Brunson said, was "very supportive and available to communicate."

"She had a big influence on him," Brunson said. "She's just one of those above-and-beyond foster parents you pray for."

The Groens adopted their ninth and tenth children Monday and, in keeping with almost all of their adoptions, arrived at court in a limo.

Tawnya said she wants her children to look back at photos from that day and see how special it was for the whole family.

"We truly believe this is how God intended for us to build our family," said Tawnya, 41.

The couple's children range from 1 year to a 21-year-old daughter they adopted when she was 16. As much as possible, they maintain an open relationship with their children's birth parents and families.

The older children are home-schooled with the support of Christian Home Educators of Tucson while the younger children attend a preschool in the mornings. The babies are at home.

Before becoming foster parents, the Groens never imagined adopting. Their dream was to have three biological children, but they struggled to conceive.

They saved to try medical intervention, but as time passed and their local technology business, Integrilogic, took hold, they decided to take in foster children.

"Then we started realizing that we truly loved these kids that were coming to us as if they were our own," she said.

They reconsidered how to use the money they had been putting aside to help with conception.

"We thought, 'No, we're not going to throw that money out on a chance,' " Tawnya said. "When you realize how great the need is, and you have the ability and the love to say yes, why would you say no?"

How do they manage?

They have set up their five-bedroom home and their lives to accommodate the children. Their backyard reflects their dedication: Play equipment, a trampoline and last year's addition, a pool.

A housekeeper comes twice a month, and a nanny helps out on four afternoons and one full day each week. They also have a network of relatives and friends who show up regularly to hug a little one, help with schoolwork or give the couple some time away for dinner and a movie.

Bruce Groen, like his wife, never imagined the busy life they now enjoy. He also believes this is their spiritual calling.

"Knowing why we're doing it really brings peace of mind in the difficult moments," Bruce, 42, said as he held a squirming toddler.

The Groens wish more people would help.

"If anybody has even considered it," Bruce said, "they probably have the heart to do and they should just do it."

"We thought, 'No, we're not going to throw that money out on a chance.' "When you realize how great the need is, and you have the ability and the love to say yes, why would you say no?"

Tawnya Groen, foster mother

How to help

For more information on becoming a foster parent and for a schedule of informational meetings visit fosterandadoptivecounciloftucson.org or call 1-877-KIDS-NEED-U.

Did you know?

In the last year, the need for foster homes for children of all ages has increased 50 percent here, according to Pima County Juvenile Court.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or pmachelor@azstarnet.com.