Fighting back tears, families come together at Oakland Adoption Day ceremony

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Oakland County courts celebrated its 17th annual Michigan Adoption Day Tuesday by joining eight children with five families.

The usually business-like Board of Commissioners Auditorium was filled with signs, bright-colored balloons and nearly 200 friends, relatives, foster parents, careworkers and others wanting to experience what Mary Ellen Brennan, the presiding judge of the Family Division, described as “our favorite day.” 

Amari Ann Patterson hugs her adopted mom, Jennifer Patterson of Rochester Hills, after the 17th annual Oakland County Adoption Day event in Pontiac.

“Adoption Day is about creating new families and the security and permanence they give to children. My colleagues and I look forward to this day because wonderful families open their homes and their hearts to children who need them,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan K. Cavanagh, who read a resolution from the state’s highest court recognizing the day.

“Thank you to all the foster and adoptive parents — may your hearts always be full of love as they are today.”

Tuesday’s formal adoptions — essentially a formal questions put to parents and children by several Oakland Circuit Court judges — took less than five minutes each. They were punctuated with smiles, laughter and yes, a few tears of joy in the auditorium as families were created before everyone's eyes.

One-year-old Dajuanah Dior Dowell of Pontiac is all smiles after she was adopted by her foster mother, Daja Dowell-Honer, center, of Pontiac as Javion Coleman, left, looks on during the 17th annual Oakland County Adoption Day event in Pontiac on Tuesday.

Amari Anne Patterson, 9, of Waterford Township, was adopted by her Knudson Elementary second-grade teacher, Jennifer Patterson, and husband, James, agreeing to Judge Lisa Gorcyca to provide love, affection and encouragement along with food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care and any other needs Amari might require in coming years.

“You know you’re on the hook now, right?” Gorcyca cracked to the beaming Pattersons, who fought back tears.

“Our puzzle is now complete,” a misty-eyed Jennifer Patterson summed up,  looking at Amari.

Judge Lisa Langton finalized the adoptions of four siblings to their grandparents, Jane and Michael Onofrey. Hope Elizabeth Combs, 17; Emily Rose Combs, 14; Joseph Andrew Combs, 13, and Faith Melody Combs, 8, have been under their care for four years. Tuesday they officially became a family and engaged in a group hug when it was finalized by Langton.

“We knew we had to keep them all together,” said Jane Onofrey, who said she was “in her 60s and my husband in his 70s”.

“We prepared and able to take care of them — this will be a great Thanksgiving," she said, adding "but there won’t be turkey,”

"No one really likes turkey so I’m making a beef brisket," she said. "One of the girls is a vegetarian.”

There are about 13,000 children in Michigan currently in foster care including 300 children without an identified adoptive family. In fiscal year 2018, more than 1,900 children were adopted through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and partner adoption agencies. In Oakland County, 156 foster care adoptions were finalized in 2018.

Adoption Day was one of several such programs held at 30 counties across Michigan Tuesday.

The Oakland County Family Division also present two special awards recognizing individuals whose contributions have significantly and positively influenced the lives of children in Oakland County. Mary E. Rossman, superintendent of the Michigan Children’s Institute, was presented with the Joan E. Young Champion of Children award, named after the Honorable Joan E. Young who retired in 2017 after serving on the Circuit and Probate benches for 28 years,19 of which were in the Family Division.

“This is an incredible honor,” said Rossman, who has devoted 40 years in adoption and family care situations. “Child welfare is not for the faint-hearted. Difficult decisions have to be made by judges, careworkers and others.

“Children have told me they ‘want to be safe, to be loved and belong.”

The Sandra Silver Advocate for Children award, named after the late Honorable Sandra Silver, who served in the Oakland Probate Court for 12 years, was presented to attorney Michael Dean for his work representing children and families in Oakland County.

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