A1 A1
Area foster kids celebrate National Adoption Day with their forever families

Some kids tossed balloons in the air while others sat still long enough to have their faces painted. Soon-to-be families in matching outfits tapped their toes in time to live music while enjoying pizza and cookies.

Anticipation further electrified the soft yellow lighting of the Washington County Courthouse last week as area families waited for their turn in the courtroom, where Judge Traci McDonald would read a decree declaring them, legally, “family.”

The Washington County Children and Youth Services hosted its first National Adoption Day celebration at the courthouse Friday. CYS Director Anne Schlegel led the event, where 16 area foster resource families added one or more names to their family trees.

“Last year ... I was saddened we couldn’t celebrate like families deserve,” said Schlegel. “It started out small. The more we started planning, the more excited we got.”

And the bigger the event became. Schlegel said grant money covered most of the celebration costs, including balloons by Mike the Balloon Guy, face-painting by Faces by Christina and a live performance by Pittsburgh-area musician Terrance Vaughn. Osso’s donated pizza, Angelo’s provided pasta, and cookies and snacks were courtesy of Oakmont Bakery and Popcorn Willy.

“We were able to pull it together,” Schlegel said, noting that CYS could not have put on the Adoption Day event without the community.

The crowd of excited families and extended family and friends gathered on the steps of the rotunda, where Schlegel welcomed everyone and McDonald officially opened the hearings.

“I am as excited as you all are,” said McDonald. “Who’s ready to get adopted?”

Mason Sweany was ready.

When he and his soon-to-be family took their seats in the courtroom, Mason grabbed the microphone and shouted, “Hooray!”

“Today makes 879 days in foster care for him,” said his new mother, Heidi Sweany. She and her husband, Robert, adopted Mason’s older sister Caitlyn several years ago and teared up when McDonald officially declared Mason their son.

“I’m not able to have children. I knew that at a very young age,” said Heidi. “I get to be a mom. They are my life. My kids and my husband are my life.”

For Briana and Amanda St. Cyr, who began fostering six years ago, when Amanda’s niece and nephew entered the system, family is everything.

Since adopting Sadie, 7, and Avery, 6, the couple has fostered and adopted four more children, including Callihan, 8 months, whose adoption was finalized last week.

The St. Cyrs are now a party of eight.

“This is our sixth adoption. We adopted his biological brothers last year, in December,” said Briana St. Cyr. “Last year it was over Zoom. This is super exciting that we get to end our last one here.”

Kids were equally excited to be at the courthouse for National Adoption Day. Bentley Holmes, 3, celebrated his adoption by playing with balloons with his new parents, Angela and Brian Holmes, at the bottom of the courthouse rotunda.

“It’s surreal,” said Angela. “It’s just been a long time coming. It’s the start of the rest of his life – a dream come true for us.”

That sentiment was echoed by Alicia Valliotti, who officially welcomed Amaziah into the family on Friday. Valliotti, her husband, David, and their two daughters, Sidney and Addie, have been waiting to call Amaziah family since July 2019.

“I don’t know that I know how to feel,” said Alicia. “Getting to be part of his story, getting to see that through. You get them at such a vulnerable time, and to see him flourishing is just really exciting.”

The impact adoptive families have on their children is something 17-year-old Makala Trevna knows firsthand: she found her forever home last year, when Lori Trevna adopted Makala and her two brothers.

“I always was getting in trouble or doing something I wasn’t supposed to,” said Trevna. Lori, she said, changed her life.

“Changed it a lot. I’ve actually wanted to do things with my life. Before, I never did.”

Trevna is college shopping; she hasn’t yet decided if she will attend Duquesne University or the Community College of Allegheny County, but wherever she goes, she knows she has a place to come home to.

“I actually have someone that cares for me,” she said.

Trevna’s sentiments echo National Adoption Day’s slogan, “Love Makes a Family.” Emotions were high, the love was palpable, and Schlegel is already looking forward to next year’s celebration.

“Becoming that forever family – there’s nothing like it for the system folks,” Schlegel said. “Seeing that this child has now obtained permanency and their emotion and physical well-being is being met is just the most rewarding experience.”

Salvation Army in need of bell ringers for Red Kettle campaign

Editor’s note: Today, we kick off a series of stories to highlight the nonprofits in our area. For the 26 print editions between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, look for the “Helping the Helpers” logo to read about a different organization every day. The series will profile nonprofits that focus on human services, community betterment and the arts, and include ways to help them continue to help others.The Salvation Army Washington Corps red kettles are a Christmas tradition.

But the Salvation Army, led by Captains Jason and Amber Imhoff, works every day throughout the year to fulfill its mission of “doing the most good” in the community through a number of programs and services.

“We certainly need volunteers year-round. We’re trying to do good in our community and for our community all year long, but this is a busy time for us,” said Capt. Amber Imhoff.

There are opportunities for people to participate in several of the Salvation Army’s efforts, including the Red Kettle campaign, the Angel Tree, the annual Christmas present distribution for children ages infant through 12th grade, Christmas Basket of Hope, Shoes for Kids, Love in a Backpack (which provides food for children in 10 local schools), and the Snowman Trail.

“That’s the great part of it, there are a lot of ways to help out. Maybe you can’t stand out there and ring a bell because of work commitments or health issues, but you can hang door hangers for the Red Kettle, or maybe you can’t help financially, but you can assemble a bike or load cars for our Christmas distribution,” said Imhoff.

This year, the non-profit is relying solely on volunteers to man the kettles during the Red Kettle campaign, so more people will be needed to ring the bell.

The Salvation Army also is continuing its monthly produce distribution to almost 700 homes, where about 13,000 pounds of produce is given to food-insecure Washington County families each month.

Imhoff pointed out a growing number of families throughout Washington County are struggling from the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – such as loss of income or jobs, and the rising cost of food, gas, and other items.

“Everybody has to eat, and the cost of everything is going up,” noted Imhoff. “Car payments and mortgages don’t go away, and we step in and try to help where we can. It requires lots of helping hands to make it happen.”

Last year’s Christmas gift distribution reached over 1,600 children and over 700 households received Christmas food baskets.

Also, people who participate in the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree effort can drop off or mail gifts to the Washington headquarters.

“We want to share a little bit of hope with our community. We want to help people physically, mentally and spiritually, and we want to let them know that it will be OK. It might not be OK today, but each day is going to get better one day at a time,” said Imhoff.

People can mail monetary donations to Salvation Army, 60 E. Maiden St., Washington, Pa., 15301. Imhoff suggests donors write in the memo line which effort they want their donation to benefit.

Visit the Washington Salvation Army’s Facebook page for additional information on the Washington Corps’ programs and how you can get involved. They can also be reached by phone at 724-225-5740.

editor's pick
Deputies handcuff Davis after refusing court order transferring juvenile filings
  • Updated

Washington County Clerk of Courts Brenda Davis was placed in handcuffs by sheriff’s deputies Wednesday morning when she refused a court order to hand over juvenile case filings stored in her courthouse office.

Davis was later released after complaining of a back injury she allegedly sustained during the brief encounter.

President Judge John DiSalle filed an order earlier in the morning requiring Davis to allow the county’s Juvenile Probation Office to take custody of all juvenile delinquency and dependency cases from her office after she had waived many of those duties last month.

But when two sheriff’s deputies, a juvenile probation officer and Court Administrator Patrick Grimm went to the clerk of courts office about 9:30 a.m. in an attempt to serve the order, Davis refused to comply and went to the vault where the files are stored and closed and locked the door.

The two deputies then placed her in handcuffs, but they removed them when she complained of back pain. They then escorted her to DiSalle’s courtroom for a hearing, but she refused to go inside and eventually went back downstairs. Medics were called to the courthouse and checked her for injuries before releasing her.

Sheriff’s deputies then briefly detained Davis outside the courthouse’s side entrance on West Cherry Avenue, but they eventually allowed her to leave. She could be seen limping while walking on the sidewalk, and was purportedly taken in a private vehicle to an area hospital for unspecified treatment.

Davis declined to comment as she left the courthouse, but Prothonotary Lauren Hough, who witnessed part of the encounter, said deputies “manhandled” her while trying to serve the order.

“The sheriff’s deputies were pretty physical with her,” Hough said.

DiSalle called a hearing at about 11 a.m. to place on the record how the events transpired, although Davis was not in attendance.

Grimm testified they tried to serve DiSalle’s order, which stated sheriff’s deputies should “detain” Davis or any member of her staff for immediate contempt proceedings if they refused to comply. Grimm testified Davis began recording video of the encounter with her cell phone and told them she was an elected official and that she would not comply with the order. Hough then arrived to the office, Grimm said.

But Davis “argued” with deputies and then ran over to the vault door and slammed it shut before turning the lock, he said. The deputies then went over to place handcuffs on her as the argument escalated, Grimm said.

“She appeared to resist at one point,” Grimm said.

Sheriff’s Cpl. Edwin Schell testified she became “very argumentative” with them during the encounter, while Deputy Paul Rock said Davis continued to refuse to follow their instructions.

“She walked away from us numerous times,” Rock said.

After they removed the handcuffs upon her complaints of back pain, they attempted to bring her to DiSalle’s courtroom for apparent contempt proceedings. She refused to go inside and went downstairs before requesting to be checked by medics.

Attorney Sean Logue testified he was asked by DiSalle to “mediate or help in any way” with the transfer of juvenile documents, although he added he does not represent Davis or her office. Logue said he saw 20 juvenile probation officers walking down the hallway, presumably to carry the boxes of documents, but he felt they were intimidating. He added that Davis complained of heart palpitations and arm pain, prompting the medical attention.

“It was never suggested we interfere with the medical (care)?” DiSalle asked Logue rhetorically. “That was our primary concern.”

Grimm said this has been a long, drawn-out process with Davis ever since she waived numerous duties of her office in June after several of her workers were transferred to adult probation. More workers were transferred out earlier this month after she waived additional duties involving juvenile filings in October, prompting an argument between her and Commission Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan at the Nov. 4 commissioners meeting over the decision. Irey Vaughan requested sheriff’s deputies to come into that meeting to maintain order, although Davis was permitted to stay.

Davis tried to appeal the decision and return some of the duties to the office, but DiSalle’s order took precedent over her requests.

“It wasn’t as if we just showed up today and she had no idea why we’re doing this,” Grimm said.

At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, DiSalle ordered Deputy Clerk of Courts Regina Lindley to facilitate the transfer of the juvenile case files in Davis’ absence. Lindley said she would, although she was concerned about what would happen if Davis returned and continued to block the transfer. It was not known if Davis ever returned to the courthouse Wednesday.

“I’m going to send you down with a couple of deputies to make sure this gets done,” DiSalle told Lindley.

It was not known what would happen next in the long-simmering dispute between Davis, DiSalle and the county commissioners that finally boiled over Wednesday. DiSalle declined to say whether he would begin contempt proceedings against Davis next week when the courthouse reopens after a four-day weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday.

What's closed
  • Updated

Federal, state and local government offices are closed today in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. Banks and financial markets are also closed and there is no mail delivery. State, county and many municipal offices are also closed Friday.