Baltimore County Circuit Judge H. Patrick Stringer, Jr., has a pleasant discussion with a young child during the National Adoption Day at teh County's Ceremonial Courtroom.
Five days before Thanksgiving, while families stressed over turkeys, table settings and travel arrangements, the Honorable John O. Hennegan was busy finalizing different family issues. Through his actions the last three years, the 16-year veteran of the Baltimore County Circuit Court has alleviated the common seasonal-stress upon many households and replaced it with another reason to be thankful.
Alongside the Honorable H. Patrick Stringer, Jr., Hennegan steadied himself behind the bench in the County’s Ceremonial Courtroom on November 17, 2007; together the duo spiritedly approved the creation of ten new families on National Adoption Day, an event celebrating those willing to open their hearts and homes to foster children across the country. A familiar scene for Hennegan.
“It’s a wonderful, glorious, exciting day,” said Hennegan, himself an adoptive parent. “You feel so elated and it’s pretty emotional because you see the families cry [out of joy], kids with smiles on their faces. It’s one of the greatest feelings that you can have.”
National Adoption Day, annually hosted on the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving, was created eight years ago but only recognized in Baltimore County for the past three. Over 200 people celebrated the past occasion at the Old Courthouse – Room #5 in Towson as family, friends and former participants packed one of the oldest courtrooms in the state to catch a glimpse of the new, legally-approved families.
The impetus to hold National Adoption Day came from Hennegan during Law Day in May 2005, when he casually mentioned to Doris Barnes, Executive Director of the Baltimore County Bar Association, that they should form a committee to organize the proceedings – the first in the state. Hennegan happily recalls: “And that’s all I needed to say.”
From there the BCBA President, Council and the Department of Social Services formed a committee and, six months later, National Adoption Day arrived in Maryland with Hennegan behind the bench each year since.
“The [BCBA] really has done a great job – they’ve been behind it one hundred percent,” Hennegan said. “When you get the bureaucracy out of it and it’s just the Bar Association, you can move a lot quicker.”
Each family was recognized during the proceedings. After the judge approved the adoption, he would stand and take a picture with the family: the mother holding a rose, the child holding a teddy bear and the father smiling over his new family. Applause and cheers filled the emotional room throughout the ceremony and peaked when Hennegan humbly accepted the “Lifelong Commitment to Creating Families Through Adoption” award presented by the BCBA. One family, guests of an adoptive couple, stood in the back of the court and observed the day’s proceedings. Overwhelmed, they approached Barnes and asked where they could get information on adopting.
“It really does reach out and touch people,” said Barnes, who, along with the BCBA, Adoption Day Committee and DSS, has counseled other jurisdictions in the state to host their own celebration.
In 2006, then-Bar Association of Baltimore City President Marc Scurti contacted City Circuit Court Judge Audrey J. S. Carrion about celebrating the day in their own way. He had previously spoken with the BCBA about their initial Adoption Day success. The idea was quickly enacted as Carrion, along with everyone else Scurti spoke with, eagerly endorsed the event.
“It’s a tremendous joy to be able to preside over such a festive atmosphere,” acknowledged Carrion, who ruled on the City’s 2006 and 2007 Adoption Day celebrations and does not plan to stop. “When you are bringing families together, it is the best docket one can have.”
Not to be forgotten in this swirl of emotion are the children, the focus of the ceremonies. The two jurisdictions combined for 57 adoption grants on Adoption Day 2007 with the kids ranging in age from infant to teenager and spanning multiple ethnicities. Following the hearings, parties were held locally for the families, friends, judges and other interested folks to attend and interact with one another. The children are usually preoccupied with the age-appropriate gifts they receive, including toys, games, dolls, CD’s and DVD’s.
“Every child that comes leaves with something,” said Barnes in a simple, yet sapient manner. She was one of the many in attendance at the BCBA’s reception in the Towson Armory’s main hall following their latest ceremony. Similar celebrations sprawled across the nation on that November weekend. Region to region, countless foster kids would go home with their family for the first time. In 2006, over 3,000 adoptions were finalized on National Adoption Day.
These proceedings are not uncommon. In fact, Hennegan, Stringer and the other County Circuit Judges preside over adoption hearings on a bi-weekly basis (the City holds hearings once a month). However, recognizing and celebrating those willing to adopt a child is a grand gesture; one that matches providing these children with a home in time for the holidays.