Hope Albanese was 20 years old when she finally found a family.
“Now, I feel like when I break up with a boyfriend or when I get in a car accident or when I don’t have money for rent, I have somebody to call,” said Albanese, who was adopted by Bonnelyn Albanese four years ago. “I feel like I have a family.”
Albanese spoke as part of a ceremony to celebrate National Adoption Day, held Friday Nov. 14, part of National Adoption Month, which is celebrated every November. Nationwide, the adoptions of 3,500 children were finalized in the annual event, including 37 in Central New York. Since the inception of National Adoption Day in 2001, 25,000 children have gone to permanent homes.
“Our hearts are filled with joy for these children and for the power that this day has in raising awareness of the overwhelming number of children still waiting for a loving home,” said Rita Sorenson, executive director of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, one of the founders of Adoption Day. “Experiencing the joy of National Adoption Day reminds us all of what we can accomplish and drives us further toward our goal of finding a home for every child.”
National Adoption Day got its start in 2001 as an effort to publicize the need for adoptive families, raise awareness about the number of children in foster care, communicate the availability of and need for post-adoptive services, build collaboration among local adoption agencies, courts and advocacy organizations and celebrate all families who adopt. Since that time, the celebration has grown from just nine events — including one in Syracuse — to more than 300 in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Here in Syracuse, children from across Central New York — the event included families from five counties — 37 children were adopted, finally finding their permanent homes.
From foster care to a family
Though National Adoption Day is just one day, the National Adoption Day Coalition and local social service agencies, including the Onondaga County Department of Social Services’ Home Finding Unit, work year round to match children, particularly those in foster care, with families to care for them. There are currently 510,000 children in foster care nationwide — double the number 20 years ago — including 1,300 in New York state and 428 in Onondaga County.
In Onondaga County, some 75 percent of adoptions are foster parent adoptions. Of the 37 adoptions finalized Friday, 16 were foster care adoptions.
Chris Kratz, adoption supervisor in Onondaga County Department of Social Services’ Home Finding Unit, said National Adoption Day is the best day of her year.
“It’s a celebration,” Kratz said. “We’re completing these families, and it’s a very joyous occasion.”
But it’s not so joyous for those children who, through no fault of their own, remain in foster care.
“These children have, in many cases, been neglected and abused,” Kratz said. “These are the children who need people to come into their lives and to love them, to cherish them and to help them to become the people they can be.”
And it’s not just infants in need of homes.
“No, it’s not just babies,” Kratz said. “Most of these kids are 10 to 13 years old. You don’t stop needing a family when you’re a teenager — in some ways, you need it more.”
A landmark ceremony
This year’s ceremony in Syracuse was the largest ever, necessitating a change of location; while the ceremony has previously taken place at the Onondaga County Courthouse, this year it moved to the ballroom of the OnCenter to accommodate the crowds.
The event also featured a special speaker: Hon. Judith Kaye, chief justice of the state of New York. In 2002, Kaye spearheaded a unique initiative called “Adoption Now,” joining the courts with New York’s Office of Children and Family Services, the New York City Association for Children’s Services and other local child welfare agencies in a historic collaboration to break through logjams delaying adoption finalization for thousands of children already legally freed for adoption. The Adoption Now committee identified systemic obstacles to expeditious adoptions, instituted permanent changes to improve the process, and is establishing a best-practices model based on lessons learned.
Other speakers included Albanese and Barb and Robert Rogers, who took in seven of the Lost Boys from the Sudan as foster children, including Olympian Lopez Lomong.
‘A basic human need’
As one of the first cities to host a National Adoption Day ceremony, Syracuse boasts a long record of participation in the event.
“We have a very activist Family Court, and when we heard about this opportunity, we jumped on board,” said Hon. Martha Walsh Hood, acting Supreme Court judge and former Family Court judge in Onondaga County. “This is an excellent way to raise awareness of the fact that November is National Adoption Month, that there are over half a million children in foster care with over 100,000 awaiting adoption and that there are almost 500 in Onondaga County.”
Walsh Hood said the event is significant, particularly at this time of year, because it emphasizes the importance of family.
“Having someone to take care of you, someone who’s there for you, it’s a basic human need,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are so many people who don’t have that. But National Adoption Day is nice because it connects people and fills that need. It makes all of us thankful for what we have.”
“Everyone needs a family, whether they’re an infant or 16 years old or 30 years old,” she said. “Everyone needs someone to stand by them.”
To learn more about becoming a foster or adoptive parent, call the Onondaga County Home Finding Unit at 435-3827 or visit giveyourlifeasmile.com.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.