Eckerd Connects, a national leader in workforce development, juvenile justice, and child welfare services, is celebrating National Adoption Month this November by commemorating the adoption of 50 foster children into 30 forever families with a drive-through celebration on November 14th. Ordinarily, this finalization begets a special court hearing in which a judge signs final orders and takes pictures with the family; the closure ritual celebrates the moment the family becomes legally united.
“In a time when the pandemic has taken over,” Lauren Breto, the Hillsborough County Adoption Supervisor at Eckerd Connects, says, “these families have lost out on having their day in court that represents closing one chapter and opening another. We hope that this event will provide this experience for our families and kids while making them feel loved and special.”
Pizzas, desserts, and goody bags full of commemorative gifts will be distributed to the families in celebration of this momentous occasion. Eckerd Connects and their partners will be present to take pictures at a photo op, wave congratulatory signs and banners, and cheer on the families as they pass through.
There will be one solitary court hearing, though, arranged for a very special young lady in Hillsborough in honor of National Adoption Month.
Ashanti is a 17-year-old girl who has been in the foster care system since she was a one-year-old. Raised by a number of temporary guardians, case workers, and therapists, she never had a permanent home or parent to call her own. Nevertheless, Ashanti never lost hope of one day being adopted. In April of 2020, she was placed into the foster home of Dawn Phillips. Over the summer, in need of a change of quarantine scenery, Dawn took Ashanti to Texas to meet Dawn’s close friends. “While we were in Texas,” Dawn recalls, “I saw a picture with the lyrics to the song “Where You Belong” by Kari Kimmel that touched my heart: “It’s not where you come from / It’s where you belong / Nothing I wouldn’t trade / I wouldn’t have it any other way / You’re surrounded / By love you’re wanted / So never feel alone / You are home with me / Right where you belong…” Moved by the lyrics, Dawn made an emotional commitment to never allow Ashanti another moment of feeling unwanted. She made the decision to adopt Ashanti and began working with the social workers to begin the process without her knowledge.
On October 24th, Eckerd Connects and the Heart Gallery of Tampa arranged a surprise adoption proposal for Ashanti. Surrounded by friends and family, Dawn asked Ashanti to be her forever daughter. “It was the most magical moment!” Lauren Breto recalls. Just four months shy of her 18th birthday, Ashanti is finally getting a forever family. Her adoption will be finalized this November.
Eckerd Community Alternatives in Hillsborough finalizes approximately 300 adoptions per year, with last year’s number being 360. There are nearly 100 foster kids available for adoption without an identified adoptive home in the system.
On Saturday, November 14th, 2020, the drive-through celebration will be taking place from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M at 9391 N. Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL 33612. Ashanti’s court date has yet to be determined but will take place this November.