Families Grow By Leaps and Bounds 11/27/14 11/27/14 1:27:02 AM
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| Johnathan Farrell is excited to receive his button declaring he was “adopted today” from Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich, as his parents Mike Farrell and Susan Reff, and big sister Casey cheer him on. Johnathan was also happy to share his freshly painted alien face with all. Click here for more photos.Families Grow By Leaps and Bounds
At 15th Annual National Adoption Day
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
On this Thanksgiving Day we voice our gratitude for our many blessings, not the least of which are our families.
But right now, there are nearly 300 children in Nebraska alone who have no real family to call their own. They are waiting to be adopted by loving parents so they too can be thankful for family. Adoptions are indeed something to celebrate.
Adoptions played out in cities across Nebraska (and across the nation) as more than 100 children found forever homes in 10 communities last Saturday. Lincoln celebrated on November 15 and Scottsbluff and North Platte will hold their Adoption Day on December 6.
National Adoption Day has been a very special day for families in Omaha/Douglas County for 15 years. Last Saturday’s observance was no exception, as 54 children found their forever homes.
The GrahamsCase in point: Lori and Garland “Pete” Graham. Today they are the proud parents of 16 children, including a one-year-old set of twin boys added to the family Saturday. They began fostering Tristan and Isik (now Isaac) when they were three days old, so Lori and Pete are the only parents they’ve ever known.
The Grahams have four biological children, and now 12 adopted children – Lori calls them all her “Graham Crackers.” Among the adopted children are three sets of twin boys. The couple also has a biological set of twin girls.
When the family crowded into the small courtroom, someone wondered if they were all there yet. “Oh yes. They know if they don’t move their feet, they lose their seat,” Lori quipped.
Judge Harmon asked all the traditional questions of Lori Graham, to which she answered yes. Yes, I will love them as my own. Yes, I realize this is permanent. Yes, I will provide for them. Yes, yes, yes.
The judge then turned to Pete and asked the same questions, to which Pete replied “What she said.” The judge said, “Are you saying that under oath?” The crowd, including mostly their kids, got a laugh out of that.
The Grahams, including two daughters-in-law, were all on hand – wearing matching t-shirts – to hear Douglas County Court Judge Thomas Harmon, standing in for Juvenile Court Judge Christopher Kelly, declare the little boys Grahams, to which the little ones enthusiastically pounded their hands on the table.
“We feel these children were placed in our care by God,” Lori said. “He made a place for them with us.”
The KeffersIn another courtroom, Juvenile Court Judge Vernon Daniels, began similar proceedings. The busy young lawyer, Joseph Byam II, who was handling the case, also handled the Graham adoptions, and others as well.
This time, Jennifer and Sean Keffer were getting a big head start on their family by adopting four siblings at once.
The four – ages 9, 8. 7 and 6 – are Michael, Kirstin, Joseph and Jacob. Their stepsister Alexis, Sean’s daughter, is a sophomore at Hastings College.
When it was pointed out to Sean that they were empty-nesters, he replied with a laugh, “Not any more!”
He said the initial plan, because of some behavior problems, was to adopt two of the siblings and help them keep up a relationship with the other two.
“We were in the parking lot at Boys Town on our way into a meeting on the transition. We prayed, ‘Lord, slap us with an answer to what we should do.’ We walked into the meeting, and the answer hit us. We had to keep all four together. God answered our prayer.”
Judge Daniels has followed the family’s progress and earned their heartfelt thanks. First, six-year-old Jacob – after he asked “May I approach the bench?” rushed up to the judge with a gift in a hand-decorated sack. That earned him a hug from the judge. All four children then rushed Judge Daniels to give him a big collective hug. The hugging continued with Jennifer and a tearful Sean, who told Daniels, “You were always there for us. We weren’t just a case or numbers. You cared about us.”
Daniels replied, “You’re like family now. Of course I care. We all care.”
The four children and their new forever family have received a ton of support from their friends at BACA – Bikers Against Child Abuse, a charitable organization of motorcyclists who have chapters around the globe.
They were there in force Saturday. The members all go by their road names, like Lemon Drop and Rebel. They have bestowed road names on the kids now, like Tadpole.
Sean, a mechanic and home improvement handyman, doesn’t currently have a bike, but said somewhat wistfully, “someday.” Jennifer laughed and said, “Maybe you can get a sidecar for the kids.”
Susan Reff & Mike FarrellAttorney Susan Reff of Hightower Reff Law also had a busy Saturday morning handling her clients’ adoptions. Then, at 10:45, it was her turn.
Susan and her husband, Mike Farrell, finalized their adoption of five-year-old Johnathan. Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich presided over the very happy occasion. Johnathan not only gained a mom and dad, but also a sister, Mike’s daughter Casey. Jonathan is also about to become an uncle when Casey gives birth in a couple of months.
Being on the other side of the equation was a little different for Susan, but she and her family beamed throughout the proceedings. Johnathan was excited about his adoption and was especially excited to run up and claim his teddy bear from the judge. He had a big pin declaring he had been “adopted today,” as well as one saying “I gained a sibling today.”
Out in the halls of the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center, controlled chaos reigned. Face-painting was quite popular, as were balloon figures and the roaming Admiral Ackbar and squads of Imperial Stormtroopers as well as a clown with impossibly long legs. Juice boxes and cookies brought smiles, as did the backpacks given to each newly adopted child. The “noise” of the Omaha Street Percussion group, making music on trash cans lids and other household items, added to the ramped up energy of the crowd. Kids, moms and dads, grandparents, and siblings all partied till they dropped, then switched locations for a pool and pizza party at the Downtown YMCA.
Jeffrey PalzerAttorney Jeffrey Palzer, of Kellogg & Palzer, P.C., was present for both business and pleasure.
“I’ve done a few juvenile court adoptions, and I completed my second and third juvenile court adoptions Saturday. I’m especially privileged because one of the two adoptions is for my new niece and goddaughter.
“My brother and his wife are adopting their second foster child, and I’m blessed to be the lawyer for their case. Their foster child’s biological sister is also being adopted, by another couple, and I’m handling that adoption as well,” Palzer said.
“I think the concept of Adoption Day is great because it opens the process up to not only just the family of the adopted child, but all the people involved and fellow adopting families.
“I enjoy all of my adoption work. I consider it a tremendous honor to assist someone in an adoption proceeding and getting to be part of their special day. But I really enjoy when the adoptive couple brings ‘the whole family’ to the hearing. It makes a legal proceeding into a family affair.
“I think the judges genuinely enjoy that as well, often taking time for pictures with the adoptive couple and the family.
“I will be honest, I usually try to sneak into one of the pictures, and I have a file with all those pictures. As a lawyer, I enjoy my job the most when I am helping people, and adoptions are near the top of that list.”