In surroundings that too often bear witness to the worst of the human condition, the best of the human condition prevailed yesterday as 63 Allegheny County children and their new parents helped to celebrate National Adoption Day.
Love and laughter replaced hate and scorn in the often cantankerous courtrooms of the Family Division of Common Pleas Court as seven judges finalized the adoption of children ranging from infants to adolescents.
"It's a glorious day," said Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, administrative head of the Family Division. "It gives me faith in humanity."
As the judges and their staffs prepared for the 9 a.m. start of the individual adoption proceedings on the upper floors of the former County Jail, adults, adoptees, family members and friends gathered on the first floor. While they waited, they enjoyed a breakfast of sausages, eggs and bagels provided by the Kiva Han restaurant in Oakland.
Up on the fifth floor, Ryan and Heidi Pape, of Finleyville, took turns holding 1-year-old Victoria in the carpeted hallway outside the courtrooms. The active youngster came into their lives when she was 4 days old, was transferred a month later to the home of her maternal grandmother and was returned four days later when the grandmother decided she couldn't take care of her.
The she's-here, she's-gone, she's-back generated "a roller coaster" of emotions, said Mrs. Pape, 33, who owns and operates a dog-grooming business. "We got attached to her very quickly and it was very hard to let her go."
Ryan Pape, also 33, a roofing contractor, said Victoria was the first foster child they cared for. They recently accepted two more foster children, one 2 weeks old and the other, 3 weeks old. The 2-week-old is Victoria's biological brother. The Papes, who have a 16-year-old daughter, plan to adopt Victoria's baby brother.
What prompted them to adopt?
In an answer echoed by others inside and outside the courtrooms, the Papes said they love children and are in a position to help someone. "It filled our need to be needed," Mrs. Pape said.
Mr. Pape, who is building a two-story addition to their home, said caring for foster children runs in his family. His mother has two foster children and his cousins have been raising foster children for about 10 years.
"If you have the time, ability, patience, room and love, you can do it," Mr. Pape said.
Edie Cressler, of Natrona Heights, appears to have all those attributes in abundance.
"I got a two-fer," said the smiling mother of five who adopted a daughter yesterday and got a granddaughter in the bargain. "It wasn't that hard," she said with a smile. "County employees do most of the work for you."
Her new daughter, Jessica Fedoris, 16, a sophomore at Highlands High School with a 4.0 QPA, said she had been in and out of about 20 foster homes before she arrived at Ms. Cressler's doorstep.
Miss Fedoris first arrived when she was 9. She left after a month, returned at age 11 and left a month later. She came back at age 13 and left again in a month's time. She returned at age 14 and stayed. On two of those earlier occasions, she left to move back with her mother; she stayed with a family on the other two occasions. She once lived in four homes and in four different school districts in one year.
She blamed herself for her here-and-gone existence.
"I was very disobedient, very disrespectful," she said, while holding Kylie, her 12-week-old daughter. "But I finally settled down and grew up. It wasn't easy. A counselor helped me," Miss Fedoris said. She plans to marry her boyfriend, the father of her daughter, when she graduates from high school. She wants to become a registered nurse.
Ms. Cressler, 42, a dog groomer, said she first thought about becoming a foster parent when she was in junior high school. She said Miss Fedoris and her two younger brothers were the first foster children she had. She said one of her uncles adopted five brothers whose parents had died in an auto accident. She said other relatives also took in foster children.
"Being able to adopt is a gift," Ms. Cressler said. "I'd adopt more if I could."
All of those adopted yesterday are the children of adults who, for a variety of reasons, have been stripped of their parental rights. The Orphan's Court Division of Common Pleas Court handles private adoptions.
More information on adopting is available at www.kidsforkeeps.org or by calling 412-473-2300 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1488.