For the past four decades, Noelene Lever has provided a haven for children in need, giving them the most important thing in life - love.

The 78-year-old selfless widow from the NSW north coast has opened her home to more than 50 foster children since the late 1970s, while working two jobs and caring for five of her own kids.

Ms Lever, who normally avoids too much fuss, was named the Barnardos NSW Mother of the Year on Tuesday, honouring her lifelong commitment to caring for children.

"I like to sit in the background and make a cup of tea while everyone else talks," she said after winning the gong.

Noelene lost her husband in a car accident and moved to Sydney to find work to support her five children in the late 70s.

She remembers clearly the first foster child she helped just after losing her husband. She was living in Sydney when a 12-year-old local boy asked if he could live with her family.

"I didn't question the parents but their attitude was like 'Well, if you think you can handle him, then fine he can stay with you'," Ms Lever said on Tuesday.

"He was good with me and I just gave him love."

Ms Lever never opted to adopt any of the 50 children because at the time it would have meant severing all ties with the foster children's families.

"To me it was important for them to know their family," she said.

Ms Lever was also heavily involved with the Aboriginal community in Redfern and worked with the Aboriginal Legal Service before she retired to live in Forster some eight years ago.

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