My First Angel
CHAMPAIGN -- I interviewed Ladine Shelby in November 2007. At that time, she had five children of her own, adopted four and fostered 50. That's on top of her daycare kids.
I went back to see what's changed over the past six years. This was Ladine's house back then, filled to the brim with children and little elbow room.
"You've got some more space!"
She's now in a new house with a little more room to breathe and cook.
"Food list, oh that sounds good."
What hasn't changed? Her love for what she does.
"I love it. You have to love it. You really do."
The 72-year old has now fostered more than 100 children.
"Sometimes the children you have have been damaged and they don't trust and you have to gain their trust."
Some of those foster children became a permanent part of her family. Ladine has adopted five.
"They grow on you. You love each other."
And they don't want to leave?
"That's what it amounts to."
"Honestly, without her, I would truly, not be here today. I thank God for her."
Candice Jackson was the first child Ladine adopted. She came here at 12, but was moved to another foster home at 15. It didn't last.
"I ran back to what was home. This was home to me."
Her forever home.
"It's people like her who truly love kids and love what they're doing that give you a home when you don't have one. Give you a voice when you don't have one. She's been that rock."
Now Ladine is a rock for even more people in Champaign-Urbana. She's on the board for Access Initiative. It's a group which helps families going through tough times.
"I want to be that voice that says, 'I know this because I've been here. I know this is a need.'"
No one might understand that more than Ladine. She takes in children with a rough start in life and makes sure it doesn't end up that way.
"I've planted the seed. I've given them the tools. This is their journey, but some point in time, those things they've been given, they'll realize they have something they can use."
Ladine says she'll keep working with kids as long as she can remember everyone's names!
CROPSEY -- One Angel story got national attention after airing in Central Illinois. It was one of the top five animal videos on the Weather Channel for awhile. There's good reason.
The story of an abused horse and the girl who saved her melted hearts. That friendship is still going strong.
"You got hay all over you. What are you doing? What are you doing?"
You see it in their eyes; in the way they are together. This is more than an owner and her animal.
"Is she your favorite?"
"I can't have favorites. What if they hear me?"
"We won't tell them."
Kelsey Allonge and Sunny just celebrated their three year anniversary together. The connection is clear.
"If I come outside to do chores, she makes a beeline for me. She'll follow me up and down the pastures. She knows she's mine."
"She knows you were the one who spent five nights sleeping next to her. Five nights."
Five long nights of not knowing if she would live. Kelsey found her on the side of a road; starving, abused, ready to give up. Kelsey walked her home because she was too weak to get in a trailer. It was a four-hour journey.
"I wasn't concerned about the time it was going to take or the amount of miles I had to walk. I was just more concerned about getting her safe. I think that's what kept me going."
Sunny still has the scars; whip marks on her ears, cut marks on her legs from trying to break free to find food.
"She's still got some of them. Everyone's got scars."
But, there are no scars on her heart.
"For a horse to get over being abused is one thing, but for a horse to love people again is, that's a big step. She's a brave girl."
The abuse stunted her growth a bit. But, since we first saw here, she's a foot-and-a-half taller and has doubled her weight. She's broke to ride and even though she's the youngest on the farm, she's the boss.
"She's the head honcho."
She's thrown her weight around you could say.
"Now that she has weight."
She even has a boyfriend, Diesel, also a rescue horse.
"They appreciate everything so much more. She wants your attention. She adores it."
Sunny will get even more attention next year. She'll compete in a three-day riding even. A total turnaround from where she was three years ago.
"You never thought this could be a show horse someday?"
"No, I didn't think it would be a horse we could touch someday, but I knew she would be alive."
MONTICELLO -- Ian Clark is lucky to be alive thanks to two angels. He was out jogging three years ago when he had a heart attack.
Carlos McClellan and Gayla Histrope rushed to help. The closest police car happened to have an AED.
"When you look at the whole fortune of events that occurred that led to my survival, having the AED was one that was certainly most important."
It was a fact not lost on Ian's daughter, Cloe. She gave up birthday presents that year. Instead, she asked for donations for an AED for the sheriff's department. It didn't have one.
"My birthday was coming up, so I decided I just wanted to keep raising money."
She reached her goal. One was donated on Valentine's Day, 2011, with Ian's angels watching.
"I was so determined on this one thing and I just wanted to finish it."
Now the sheriff is trying to finish what Cloe started. He wants to get a grant for more of the life-saving machines.
"How important is it to get one in every car?"
"I'm here because of it. It's life or death."
As for Ian's health, he's doing great; running 15 miles a week and racing when he can.
LODA -- Billy and Bobbie Jo Masco are as close as two siblings can be. Bobbie Jo has Down syndrome and Billy was her angel taking care of her, a lot.
I talked to them last year about Billy graduating and the separation that was coming. It was an emotional interview.
"She's something special to me. She's a big portion of who I am. She's built my character and my personality."
Bobbie Jo was in 8th grade, Billy, a senior. He got her to school and picked her up every day; pretty much devoted all of his free time to his sister.
"I constantly keep a watch out for her. I want to protect her from any danger or anything that can hurt her."
The coming year was going to be tough.
"I love you."
"I love you."
Fast-forward to today.
"How are you?"
"I'm doing well. We're on track. Doing well with Bobbie."
"I almost felt when we talked, that graduating high school was going to be harder for you than her. Is that what it ended up being."
"I think it was. It really, truly was. I didn't exactly know where I was going in life. It was a shaky point in time."
But, Billy and Bobbie have found a new routine. Billy comes home from Parkland College every night to see her. Sometimes it's for dinner, sometimes, just for a hug.
"Knowing she'll be there when I get home and taking the time to say, 'hi, goodnight,' Just being that brother-sister connection."
It's quality over quantity and it's working.
"You love him?"
"I love him."
Billy helped Bobbie Jo make the cheerleading squad back when she was in junior high.
"I went to practice with her and tried to remember as much as I could, the practices and cheers and, when we went home, we would practice on our own."
Now, he's making sure she gets the most out of high school too, taking her to her homecoming dance.
"It's important for her to go to Homecoming to have those experiences, just like any other child would have."
The next school year will bring yet another challenge. Billy is planning on going to college in Chicago. Nightly visits will turn into monthly ones.
"Are you going to miss him?"
"I miss him."
But, Billy knows Bobbie Jo will be OK.
"She's a strong, strong, independent, young girl. She'll be the first to tell you."
Because distance can't break this brother-sister bond.
"She'll always be there. I'll always take care of here. She'll always be part of me."
Billy is thinking about becoming an air flight nurse. Always one to take care of others. And Bobbie Jo says she's excited about visiting Chicago.
CHAMPAIGN-URBANA -- I've interviewed lots of angels who make donations of time and talent.
Remember Elizabeth Michael? She and her team make weighted blankets for children with autism. The blankets can calm a child down, even helping them get to sleep more easily. Elizabeth's crew has put together 110 of them now, all going to homes free of charge.
Also hard at work with fabric, Ruth Atteberry. You met her and her daughter last year. They spend hours sewing dresses for orphans in Africa. They started two years ago and are now up to more than 900; making each one more colorful than the last.
And who can forget the Teddy Bear Lady? Jean Huddleston makes these stuffed animals for people who've lost a loved one. She uses their clothing to create a memory they can hold.
Jean started sewing in 2005. She's made 1,638 bears. She says she now sleeps with her hand in a splint, but it's worth it.
CHAMPAIGN -- One man is in his own donor category. I talked to Craig Weaver in 2010 after he donated his kidney to a total stranger. Now that stranger has become a friend.
Craig Weaver looks like a tough guy out on the job, but underneath that hard hat, is a softie.
"I love him. I don't even know him and I love him."
Craig's talking about Charlie.
"I'm tickled to death. He's still around."
The man who got his kidney.
"Charlie sends me cards all the time. He's nuts about me. Every little holiday there's something in the mail. He sends me mostly treats, popcorn and chocolates."
Craig got the idea to be an organ donor after watching a story on our newscast. A little boy died before getting a bone marrow transplant.
"I wanted to do something."
Craig called an organ donation program. About two months later, he gave his kidney to Charlie, but Craig wasn't done there.
"I went back to see if they needed a liver and any other part."
"So, you are saying, 'take what you need? Yes to anyone?' Why aren't more people like that?"
"That's what Jesse White said, 'why don't people do it?'"
Craig's other new friend? The Secretary of State. They were both at a rally to get more people to sign up.
"He told me he wanted 10,000 more just like me. He's a real nice guy."
Craig also won an award from the National Kidney Foundation.
"They had a gala in Chicago. I dressed up in black tie and the whole nine yards."
"That must have been very different for you?"
New friends, exciting events, quite a life for this construction work. But, for Craig, none of that matters.
"I didn't do it to meet Jesse White. I didn't do it to get any awards, no pats on the back. Charlie's got two grandkids that get to spend time with him, get to sit on his lap. They get to know him and they might be 13, 14 before something happens to him, or 20. Maybe he'll get to walk one of them down the aisle. Wouldn't that be amazing?"
He does have one more wish; that anyone watching this story will make the decision to be a donor.
"Let's everybody do it. Everybody do it. It's a good feeling, especially when you get that telephone call, and on the other line, 'Hey, Charlie, what's up?' That makes for a good day."
Craig and Charlie are planning on getting together this winter. It will be the first time they see each other outside a hospital.
MONTICELLO -- When my photographer, Travis, and I decided to do this show, the first person on our list to call was The Candy Woman. Margie Pope was one-of-a-kind. The, then 86-year old delivered sweets and fruit to nursing home patients in Piatt County.
"I buy 33 bananas every Wednesday for both nursing homes, besides all that candy and apples and oranges."
She also delivered smiles.
"Whenever that door opens up and she's there. It's not everybody who comes up and hugs you."
Sadly, the day after Travis and I talked, I got a call Margie had died. Her son, Mick, said she loved being a TV star.
"She really liked that. She thought that was very nice. She told everybody about it."
It was even part of her obituary. And though she's not around to make deliveries, her kindness will never be forgotten.
"I've never met anyone like my mom was. She just gave everything of herself to everybody."
Mick says, after Margie's story aired, donations to the "Fruit and Candy Fund" came pouring in. Ten bucks here, twenty there. A couple in Champaign wrote a check for $300. Her giving spirit inspired us all.
CHAMPAIGN -- Without a doubt, the one angel story everyone asks about is the story about finding my birth mom. A change in the law let me see my birth certificate, and with the help of the internet and my reporter friends, we got a number and called her from the newsroom, right before a newscast.
Then, on Mother's Day, 2012, I met her, my new sister, brother and his family for the first time. Even better, the mom who raised me was there too.
So, what has life been like for the past year-and-a-half? My moms came to town for lunch and to chat about our new family.
We always say to each other, it seems so normal, that is, we're all family. That's just the way it's going to be. It seemed like you just met someone. You know, when you have a friend and you haven't seen them in a long time, and you take up exactly where you left off? It's like we have this connection and we've known each other forever, even though we haven't.
I just pinch myself that we got really lucky. I pinch myself everyday because it was something I'd hoped would happen, but didn't know it would. It's the greatest gift I've ever received in my entire life. Look at how many more people love you.
Yes, it's such a blessing. To know that the two of you are together again, we all love each other. And what an extra bonus. I mean, your mom and I are friends.
People always say, the first thing they ask, do we still talk? Then they say, do they still talk? Of course. We had to go to Happy Hour. She's introduced me to bar bites and a couple of other restaurants, participated in my retirement party. And that's what's nice. Now that you're retired, you have more time. There's someone to hang out with and someone to bring you to Champaign because you don't drive on the highways, and we do. We chat 2-1/2 hours down. There are no dull moments in our conversations or pauses.
Are you talking about me?
The first time we did talk about you for two of the 2-1/2 hours, just because, I'm still trying to get to know you. I only know you as an adult and so, she's helped to fill in some, some of the childhood experiences.
But, I was the perfect child.
Oh, I'm sure. Now that I know you, I've known you my whole life. It's really shown me where I come from. You know what I mean? It made me whole.
It was so adorable when we had Sophia's birthday party at the pizza place and I sat across the table watching you and Erin. The mannerisms, just the way you talked and moved your hands and smiled, and I thought, 'that is your sister.'
Every week, there's another coincidence or another connection. We just had where I was talking to some friends in Peoria. They lived in your old house. The house I built. That is crazy. Any person I tell that story to, I get chills. What are the odds of that? There are lots of people who live in Peoria.
Even the whole adoption story, right from the beginning, every person I tell, it's such a beautiful story. It's such a happy ending. And, without doing what you did, giving up your baby, I wouldn't have this lovely daughter of Sophia and Tessa, the joys of my life. And for them to have another Grandma. Who doesn't want another Grandma? Now they have three.
You just look at life and you never know where it's going to take you and I just think all of us have to feel so blessed by what's happened. It doesn't always work out like this.
I've heard from people who say, 'you are lucky. Everyday, count your blessings' and I can't think of a better blessing than this. Leslie is one of six, so the list of relatives has definitely grown; uncles, aunts, cousins. I met them all on Christmas Day last year and they all welcomed my family with open arms.
Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.