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.”