For 19-year-old Patrina Thomas, gaining custody of three brothers and a sister will make this Christmas special. The Thomas children lost their mother to a heart attack in 1987, and their father abandoned them this spring when he was arrested on a drug charge.

Thomas has been taking care of the younger children since then by working at a Jacksonville day-care center and supplementing her income with welfare, food stamps and housing assistance.On Thursday she was awarded custody of Larry, 17, Monique, 13, Reggie, 12, and Derek, 8, in a Duval County Court proceeding.

"This is my Christmas present," said Thomas.

After living in New York, Thomas' mother moved the children to Mississippi a few years ago. When the mother became seriously ill, their father, Larry Thomas, moved the children to Jacksonville. The mother died shortly after that.

All the children are good students, and Reggie is president of the teen council at the Teen Alliance Center. Nanelle Lowe, center director, said the children are well-mannered and responsible.

Patrina Thomas, who graduated from high school in June, hopes to become a nurse.

"I want an education more than anything else. I want them (her brothers and sister) to go to college. I want to put them through myself. I want them to grow up and be strong," she said.