A family isn’t always started in a hospital. Sometimes, a family is started in a courtroom.
With a flourish of his pen, Judge Bradley P. Lunsford signed off on four adoptions Thursday at the Centre County Courthouse Annex. There were tears, there was applause, but most importantly, there were three families grateful to have new children they could call their own.
The adoptions were scheduled Thursday to mark National Adoption Day. Recognized in November, the day was launched in 2000 as an effort to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in U.S. foster care waiting to find permanent families.
While the adoptions were finalized in Centre County, some of the families traveled from a distance to realize their unions.
When Mark and Tracy Kayton, of South Orange, N.J., were unsuccessful in having more children after their daughter Anna, 7, was born, they knew they weren’t finished having a family.
“We took the two long years in research to figure out if (adoption) was what we were going to do,” Tracy said.
Working with the Open Arms Adoption Network, she said, they were contacted in February about Nora, who had been born a few days earlier in Abington County. Nora’s mother had been seeking a Jewish family, and had selected the Kaytons.
“When they hand you that baby, it’s just an amazing feeling,” Tracy said. “It’s a strange visceral feeling when you connect with that baby, that they’re yours.”
For the Saunders family, though they live in Grove City, their adoption journey took them to the country of Uganda, where they met Joel, 8, and Yusuf, 6. Brian and Kim said they had been matched through the Adopt Abroad agency.
After spending time with the boys in December and January, Brian said, they were able to bring them back to the U.S. in February. The boys have been quick to pick up English, he said, but still enjoy speaking to each other in their native Lusoga.
The Saunders aren’t done with Uganda yet, he said, as they are working with the orphanage Joel and Yusuf came from, sponsoring children who are orphans or have parents with little to no income. The hope is to find sponsors to help these children go to school or get adopted themselves.
Locally, the Covaleski family, of Lemont, celebrated the adoption of 7-month-old Elijah. The biggest surprise, Tom and Jennifer said, is how quickly their children — Mitchel, 7, and Sophia, 5 — have taken to their new baby brother.
Jennifer said she noticed how instantly her children stepped into the roles of big brother and sister after a failed adoption in Feburary, prompting them to expand their search beyond Pennsylvania.
“My son has especially stepped up,” Tom said, “because he’s all boy, but he likes holding (Elijah) and feeding him.”
The adoptions were overseen by attorney Denise Bierly, who was the acting attorney for all three families. Though each adoption was different, she said — through public, private and international agencies — there are always similarities.
“Adoption is about love of a family,” she said, adding how Adoption Day falls in line with another November holiday. “It’s so appropriate, because adoption is about giving thanks for the family that you’re building.”
As director of adoption for the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, Bierly said she works on a broad range of adoptions, through foster care to step-parents and same-sex adoptions. But bringing families together is what she loves most.
“It’s the most gratifying thing a lawyer can do,” she said. “I love my job.”
Lunsford, who said he has adopted children of his own, said there is nothing more fulfilling for a judge than to help a child find their families. After performing “thousands” of adoptions, he said the work is never mundane.
“It’s a fun day for the court, staff and attorneys,” he said. “But it’s also a very important day, because it sends a message to the community that we are an adoption-friendly court. Adoptions are vitally important to the community and the families.”