Tears streamed down Priscilla Walker’s face as she heard the words she had been waiting months to hear — “it’s official,” said Miami-Dade Judge Alan Fine.
Walker had just adopted a 20-month old girl named Faith Nieves Monestime. She clutched her little “angel”, dressed in a white lace dress, and whispered, “I love you.”
Faith couldn’t see the love surrounding her. Visually impaired and born with cerebral palsy, Faith had lived her short life in a Miami Gardens nursing home’s pediatric wing when Walker met her as a medical foster parent in November 2012.
More than 20 of Faith’s new relatives, all dressed in red to mark the occasion, had gathered at Miami Children’s Museum on Friday to witness the ceremony, part of National Adoption Day. More than 60 kids were welcomed into new families, making it one of the biggest adoption events in the state.
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“This is the one day where every case has a happy ending,” said Frances Allegra, president of Our Kids, which organized the event and oversees the care of abused, neglected and abandoned children. “It’s the happiest day of the year.”
The yearly celebration, which takes place nationwide, is part of National Adoption Month.. The event promotes adoption, but also sheds light on the need for foster parents. At any given moment, there are more than 200 children in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties waiting to be adopted, said Kadie Black, a spokeswoman for Our Kids. Hundreds of others are in need of foster parents.
Allegra said Miami-Dade’s event, now in its sixth year, has grown each year. In all, 64 kids were adopted, including 13 sibling groups and 10 children over the age of 13 — the kids who have the hardest time getting adopted. All last year, 285 adoptions were finalized in Miami-Dade and Monroe.
With the child-friendly backdrop of Miami Children’s Museum, the judges, who are used to the less-colorful courthouse, scattered into various themed rooms to perform individual adoption rituals.
“We are in a business that deals with tragedy and trauma,” Allegra said. “For one day, we get a break.”
His judicial robes were accented with a hat fashioned from pink, white and green balloons. He pinned an orange dinosaur tail to the rear of his ensemble, in keeping with the museum’s dinosaur-themed decor.
When the judge signed the final order for Faith’s adoption, Walker’s “village” — her description of the herd of friends and supporters — broke out in applause.
“We are blessed to have her in our lives,” said Patrice Bolden, 31, Faith’s new godmother.
For Fine, the opportunity to leave the courthouse and preside over such a joyous, light-hearted occasion is “what it’s all about.”
When Faith was born, her parents “weren’t ready to be parents,” Walker said. Faith was placed in the Miami Gardens nursing home’s children’s wing. Child advocates said the institution, Golden Glades Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, came to symbolize all the ills inherent in the state’s warehousing of disabled kids in nursing homes.
The pediatric unit was closed earlier this year amid harsh criticism.
When Walker first encountered Faith, the retired human resource manager said her daughter-to-be was “like a vegetable.”
“She just lay there,” she said.
After a few months in Walker’s Miami Garden’s home, she was kicking and making sounds.
One day it dawned on her that Faith was destined to be her daughter.
“I was holding her and I looked into her eyes and she looked back at me,” she said. “I knew she couldn’t see me, but I felt it.”
Walker, who has two adult children and an infant granddaughter, began the long process of adoption.
“I was so afraid they were going to tell me I couldn’t,” she said.
Walker said sharing the day with other adoptive parents made it even more special.
Among those adopted Friday: Edwin.
His wish was simple: He wanted a family “who loves me for me and is fun to be around.”
The 11-year-old shared his wish last year through the Miami Heart Gallery, an online posting of pictures of kids up for adoption.
He had been in foster care on and off since age 3, and was initially fearful of giving his heart to a family after one failed adoption attempt.
But on Friday, he was all smiles as he hugged his parents after a judge signed the final order.
“I love my mom and dad because they care about me,” said the tall, soft-spoken young man who loves baseball, Star Wars and God.
Sandra and Felix Aviles, who live in Naples and have been married for four years, always knew they wanted to adopt. They were introduced to Edwin, who was in a foster home in Miami, after two attempts to adopt a newborn fell through. It was love from the moment their eyes met.
“We bonded right away,” said Aviles, who coordinates a foreign exchange program. “The first day he asked us when we were coming back.”
Sporting a suit jacket and beige pants for the occasion, Edwin hugged his mom and dad the moment the judge made it final.
“I love you,” Edwin said.
While Friday was a beginning for some, others were there to share their long-running success stories.
Guest speaker Deborah Petkovich said being adopted is like a “badge of honor” that she wears proudly. Now 18 and studying at Miami Dade College, she congratulated all of the families that were about to make the leap.
“Adoption is looking past race, past disabilities, past situations that people want to define your child by,” she said. “Adoption is about family. And family is forever.”