Editor's Note: November is National Adoption Month. This is the first in a series of articles exploring adoptions in the Berkshires.
PITTSFIELD -- You know it's a good day in court when you're handed a brown paper bag full of popcorn and given both a balloon to match the color of your sweater and permission from a judge to literally kick off your shoes.
Such was the case on Friday when brothers Kyler, 4, and Kierin, 7, wearing orange and blue sweaters, respectively, sat before Judge Joan M. McMenemy, first justice of Berkshire Juvenile Court.
"Do you know why you're here?" the judge asked.
He replied, "Adoption," stretching out the word's last syllable as kids do.
The state's probate and family courts officiate private and state adoptions all year round. But on Friday, the state Trial Court, Berkshire Juvenile Court, Berkshire Probate and Family Court, state Department of Children & Families, and the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange collaborated to celebrate National Adoption Day.
The guardianship of 11 foster children between the ages of 1 and 8 was formally granted to new "forever families" from around the region. McMenemy and Judith A. Locke, the associate justice of Hampden Juvenile Court, and Richard A. Simons, the first justice of Berkshire Probate and Family Court, presided.
Kyler, Kierin and their 2-year-old sister were each adopted by a separate family.
"But we definitely plan on keeping them in touch," said Angie Butler. She and Tim Barnes of Pittsfield adopted Kyler.
"For [Kierin], it's cool that he was able to do something special like this with his brother and sister," said Diana Vershon of Chicopee, who adopted Kierin with her husband, Adam.
Butler said she appreciated all the court's efforts to make the kids' adoption day special.
"I love it because it's their day. They get to do what they want," she said.
"Today, in this courtroom, if you're under the age of 10, you can talk, you can walk around, you can take your shoes off," said McMenemy.
Right on cue, Kierin did exactly the latter and let his black dress shoes drop from his feet to the carpeted courtroom floor.
While each family waited to enter the courtroom for their proceedings and to do paperwork, the adoptees-to-be, siblings and other families were treated to a breakfast spread, popcorn machine, a photo booth, face painting and spin-art crafts. Twenty students from the Taconic High School Honors Chorus serenaded families in the lobby.
Court clerks and officers became official greeters and elves bearing colorful oversized gift bags full of toys, books and trinkets for the children. For the new parents, there were flowers, certificates and family photos taken on site. These extras were donated through the generosity of more than 20 local businesses and other individuals.
As he conducted his first National Adoption Day proceeding, Judge Simons smiled widely and spoke gently to another family adopting a toddler girl. Happy sounds of local musician David Grover singing "You Are My Sunshine" drifted through the courtroom from the next room over.
Lance LaPointe, area program manager for the Department of Children and Families, said that National Adoption Day celebrations -- which also took place in Boston, Brockton, Salem, Springfield and Worcester -- are a means to share the highlights of the work in his department in terms of finding children a permanent home.
"But we do a lot of tough work too," he said.
Valerie Fluitt has been a social worker in this field for the past 25 years, currently serving as an adoption development, licensing and recruitment coordinator for DCF, and has seen the troubling living conditions and family struggles many children in foster care have experienced.
"These are resilient kids," she said. "But on a day like today, it's really nice to see all of this come to a positive place of permanency."
RELATED STORY | Adoption process is only the beginning for new parents
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