From toddlers to teens, 26 children took the final official steps Tuesday to join their “forever families,” during an Adoption Day event at the Boys and Girls Club in Maryville.
Cheyenne, 17, had spent a decade in foster care, seven years in guardianship, before joining the Turner family.
The Turners first visited her in Columbia, Tennessee, and said each trip it became harder to leave her behind when they returned to Maryville.
She’s the second child Leslie and Adam Turner fostered and the first adoptee to join them with daughters Abigail, 12, and LeeAnna, 16.
“There are too many good kids that need good homes and loving families,” Adam Turner said in explaining the decision to foster and adopt.
Cheyenne wore a shirt that said, “It’s My Gotcha Day,” while other families members’ shirts said “Team Gotcha.” On the back was the Heritage High School student’s common response: “Who Me?”
Cheyenne needs a big team, the family said, with challenges that include Down syndrome.
“We’re more than blessed to have her,” LeeAnna said, explaining that her new sister pulls the family together.
“We’re Better Together” was the theme for this year’s Adoption Day event.
Dean and Heather Cropp of Dandridge helped raise nieces and nephews before adding Elijah, 4, and Serenity, 2, to their family.
“We wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives,” Dean said. The couple has served as group house parents and began fostering the children seven months ago.
Dean had expected that they would adopt an older child but said, “When God brings you kids, you don’t turn it down.”
Now, he noted, he’s a first-time dad at 45.
Blount County currently has 245 children in foster care, and 50 are ages 11-17, according to Sukanda Langley, a team leader in the Maryville office of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
“There are so many kids,” Dean Cropp said, encouraging families who are considering adoption to “get past whatever doubts you have” and work with an agency.
“Give a kid a chance,” he said. “Some of these kids have seen trauma that adults should never see.”
“Even through the hard stuff, it’s still wonderful,” Heather Cropp said. Adoption is part of her family history back at least as far as as a great-great grandmother adopted in 1908.
The Cropps had nieces, nephews parents and in-laws with them Tuesday. “They’re my strength,” Heather Cropp said. “If I didn’t have my family I don’t know where I’d be.”
More than two dozen people wore “Genaway Forever” shirts in honor of three children ages 9 to 17 joining the Friendsville family.
“I have been fostering for the past 12 years,” providing a home for 27 over that time, said MyLinda Genaway, who married Bill five years ago. Tuesday’s adoptions bring her total to five in a family that now has eight children.
“You have to have a lot of patience,” she said, but the family has support from church and school too. “You have to have support if you’re going to do this.”
“Kids need somewhere safe and loving to go,” the mom said. Their sign noted, “After 728 days in foster care, we are now a Genaway forever,” with the date.
At a photo station in the hallway, Becky Cisco held up a sign that said “After 870 days, 41 years, I’m a mom.”
Landen, now 12, was the eighth child she and her husband, Sid, welcomed as a foster. Last week they took in their 66th, often providing emergency care. Although they live in Bean Station, they have fostered teens from Blount County.
“My goal is to love them and keep them safe and let them know they’re important,” she said. “When you gain the trust of a teen, that is so rewarding.”
Recently a 16-year-old who spend three nights with the family left a note saying those were the best three days in her young life. “She deserves so much more,” Becky Cisco said.
While some families came to Maryville because the Blount County event has gained a reputation as a big day, “Team Cisco” came because it was the first day open for their adoption.
Langley spoke for many when she started the ceremony this year by saying, “This is my favorite day of the year.”
Two years ago the annual adoption event outgrew the Blount County Justice Center, and last year it was held at the Capitol Theatre. This year the Boys and Girls Club offered its space at the former Fort Craig school.
The organizers already have a theme for 2020, “All Aboard.”
“Every year we try to outdo each other,” said Blount County Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington, who conducts the adoption ceremonies.
She noted the special ceremonies are part of the legacy of the late Judge W. Dale Young, whom she succeeded on the bench. Families always receive a certificate and a photo to mark the day.
This year they not only took multiple photos on the stage with the judge and a sign saying “Better Together,” but also at another photo spot outside the gym. Then family members could create artwork to mark the occasion, decorating canvasses with their handprints.
The Blount County judiciary is well represented every year, including clerks, attorneys and judges.
The Blount County Sheriff’s Office pitches in, along with students and even Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell, bringing to life superheroes, princesses, Santa Claus and other characters for the young children.
Artistic Dance Unlimited performed, and food was waiting for the families after the ceremony.
Jockey provided backpacks with the children’s new initials monogrammed on them, plus a blanket and teddy bear tucked inside each.
There are so many sponsors for the event their names packed a poster. Every time someone becomes involved with Adoption Day, they want to stay on board, Harrington said.
Leaving the ceremony Tuesday one family carried a sign that said, “First we stole their hearts, then we stole their last name.”