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Arizona couple Richard and Paula Charlebois give 'forever' home to 35 children

"I just wanted to be a mom," Charlebois said. "I wanted to be that person that talks to them, comforts them and is always there for them."
/ Source: TODAY

The Charlebois home is always loud and chaotic, but filled with so much love.

Richard and Paula Charlebois have 35 children, six dogs, multiple indoor and outdoor cats and the kids' grandpa and aunt live there too.

Their home in Glendale, Arizona, wasn't always like this. Prior to adopting 8-year-old Justen in 1997, they were having trouble conceiving.

"While we were up at night praying for a baby, he was up praying for a family," Paula Charlebois told

Richard and Paula Charlebois give 'forever' home to 35 children
Courtesy of Paula Charlebois

Justen, who is now 26, struggled with mental health issues while living in a group home, but since the Charlebois have welcomed him into their family, he's shown significant improvement. At a young age, he was separated from his family and hasn't seen them since. That's why when he asked for siblings, Richard and Paula couldn't say no.

When they started looking into adopting, Paula's mother called them up and said, "Turn on the TV, my next granddaughter is on!" It was 8-year-old Jessica, who was featured in an advertisement for Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK), and six months later she was their daughter.

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The Charlebois were enjoying their family of four, but Jessica, who had a bad experience in foster care, urged them to consider fostering children.

"Jessica would say, 'How can you complain about a system you won't try to help make better?'" Paula said. "We just didn't think we had it in our hearts."

But they did.

The Charlebois went on to provide homes for Carl, Bridget, Eleanor, Angel, Maritzah, Shyra, Luke and 30 other children, many of whom are victims of neglect and have suffered from severe behavioral issues, cognitive delays and fetal alcohol syndrome.

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Shyrah, a 10-year-old girl with celiac disease, is often teased at school. Luke, 10, remembers overhearing someone tell Shyrah that her hair looked ugly and that she's too skinny. He jumped right in the middle and told them to back off and not to speak to his sister like that.

"It feels good to know I have a brother who is there to stand up for me," Shyrah told

And Shyrah does the same for her transgender brother. She even got slapped one time for defending Luke, who was known as Sheila before transitioning at 7 years old.

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"I love having a big family because they comfort me when I'm sad and help me with my chores," Luke said. "We fight over toys and clothes just like biological siblings do."

The strong Charlebois clan has been through a lot together. They lost 22-year-old Bridget to pneumonia and neglect in February 2014, and a year later, Carl, who was also 22, was shot to death.

"They were both a joy to have in our family and Bridget was the glue that held my kids together," Paula said.

Whenever one of her siblings had a bad dream, it was her bed that they ran to and when she went off to college, she continued to check in on all of her brothers and sisters frequently.

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Before moving in with the Charlebois at 10 years old, Eleanor lived in more than 15 different places — including the streets. She's been separated from different family members multiple times, but thanks to her new forever home, she's able to be with her two biological siblings, Angel and Maritzah.

"I've never been somewhere for so long or even ever had a dad before and this one is so great," Eleanor, 18, told

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The couple doesn't think of themselves as superheroes, rather that they simply gave these children a place to be a kid and people to call mom and dad.

"I just wanted to be a mom," Charlebois said. "I wanted to be that person that talks to them, comforts them and is always there for them."

They retired six years ago, but have since adopted two more children and would be open to more.

"We say we're done," Paula said, "but I can't imagine turning down a child knowing I have an empty bed in my house."