Saturday, November 19, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Three-year-old Aneysha did not want to sit in the middle of Berkshire Juvenile Court in front of a judge.

So she climbed into the juror's box and nestled herself and an oversized stuffed green frog on the lap of a loved one. Aneysha's eyes focused on Jennifer Mullen, who sat by herself before First Justice Joan McMenemy. Mullen, 32, had been a foster parent to the girl for the past 18 months.

With a gentle voice, the judge spoke kindly of Mullen, her fiance; and family members gathered there, calling them heroes to Aneysha. But Jennifer Mullen and Aneysha were too busy blowing and catching each other's kisses to notice.

Without hesitation, McMenemy and the court approved Mullen's adoption of Aneysha. To a roomful of applauding case workers, court employees and other well-wishers, the knee-height girl with blue beaded braids and a new name, Aneysha Mullen, ran around the juror's box and leapt, oversized stuffed green frog still in hand, into the arms of her official new mother.

"She can thank her lucky stars to have someone like you," a teary-eyed McMenemy told Mullen.

On Friday, more than a thousand foster children like Aneysha experienced moments like this as their adoptions were finalized on National Adoption Day.

This was McMenemy's first time presiding over the local National Adoption Day event. On average, Berkshire Juvenile Court approves 20 or more foster care adoptions each year.

In Berkshire County, six other boys, between the ages of 3 and 10, celebrated adoptions on Friday.

For Aneysha and Jennifer Mullen, a former occupational therapist for Pittsfield Public Schools who now lives and works in Ludlow, National Adoption Day is part of a series of special events for them.

In January, Aneysha, who has been with Mullen since she was 18 months, turns 4 years old. In February, Mullen will marry her fiancé, A.J. Donais. Soon thereafter, Donais will also adopt Aneysha as his own daughter.

"I get two for one," said Donais, who was also adopted, when he was 6 weeks old.

Berkshire Juvenile Court employees served food, painted faces, popped popcorn, took pictures and gave gifts to the new families. A Taconic High School chorus filled the courtroom with heart-warming hits like Jackson 5's "ABC" and Jackie Wilson's "You're Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher."

Mara Woolley, of Cheshire, a teacher at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School, had breakfast with a smiling 6-year-old blonde-haired boy named Jesse in the court lobby. After three years together, Jesse's adoption also was finalized on Friday.

Since age 16, Woolley has been saving to adopt a child, which she thought she'd get from another country.

"Then I started teaching and realized there are so many kids in need here. Now there are seven kids getting a forever family today," said Woolley.

Jesse looked up at his mom. "Me too," he said.

More on foster care, adoption

PITTSFIELD -- Seven new families were made official on Friday during National Adoption Day at Berkshire Juvenile Court. November is also National Adoption Month.

Formerly a service of the Berkshire Probate and Family Court, Berkshire Juvenile Court has presided over adoptions of local foster care children since 1995.

Lance LaPointe, acting area director of the state Department of Children and Families said that 120 foster children had their adoptions finalized in Massachusetts, and more than a thousand were finalized in the United States as part of National Adoption Day.

He also said that between 200 and 300 youths are in foster care in Berkshire County during any given year. Seventy social workers manage these youths' cases in Pittsfield.

LaPointe said the first goal is to rehabilitate and reunite parents with their children. If that doesn't work, the department works on finding children new homes.

Ellen Leibmann, an adoption supervisor for DCF, said that aside from needing people to adopt foster care children, the department is also looking for people to help kids, even on a short-term basis, from providing emergency shelter to simply spending time with a youth.

To get learn more about helping a foster youth, call Lori Kays at (413) 236-1815 or email her at lori.kays@state.ma.us.