Christmas may be a week away, but Wednesday is the morning that several families have been waiting for all year long. That’s because Judge Gooding will be presiding over multiple adoptions at the Duval County Courthouse.
From the way little Maleah clings to Alijray Fennell’s arm, it’s hard to believe she’s only been living with him and his wife, Staci, since August.
Maleah is just 6 years old and has what is known as DiGeorge syndrome. She struggles to crawl and speak and she’s fed through a gastrostomy tube. But caring for children with special needs isn’t new to Fennells, Staci is a CNA at All Kids Care of North Jacksonville. Her husband owns Al’s Kitchen and also is a driver for children with physical and mental disabilities.
In March, they got a call that Maleah had been abandoned by her biological mother while she was in the hospital and they jumped at the opportunity to help.
“He (Aljiray) was like who do we need to call? He was like ready right then, I said I don’t know but we will make some phone calls today,” says Staci Sessions-Fennell.
From their first doctor’s appointment in July, to finally being able to bring Maleah into their home in August, they say it has been incredible.
“This child I never had personally looks at me as a mother and looks at him as Dad and it’s just amazing how it happens,” says Staci with tears in her eyes.
The Fennells wanted to make it permanent, so adoption coordinators Kinsey Whyte and Rebecca Margulies from Jewish Family and Community Services helped them along the way and were also overjoyed by Maleah’s progression.
“It is a hard job and sometimes it is really hard to see what happens,’ tells Rebecca Margulies with Jewish Family and Community Services “But then we get to do stuff like this and Staci was saying how far she (Maleah) has come and she really has: physically, developmentally and emotionally. It’s really fantastic to watch.”
Though they are already a family, they can’t wait to make it official!
“Yeah, it was meant to be!” laughs Staci.
Other families like Yaacov and Erin Petscher have been waiting for a while to officially add their adopted son Teddy into their family.
“A complete stranger sent a picture of him and asked if we knew anyone who was looking to adopt someone like him and we fell in love,” Erin Petscher said.
“It’s the best gift ever because we hoped it would be by Christmas, it looked like it would be in January so it’s a special Christmas surprise he’s a part of our family with our last name and everything,” Petscher added.
It’s a gift that Judge David Gooding has given to families for over a decade. Gooding launched the Home for the Holidays event in 2004.
“We all know that a permanent family is better than the best foster care systsem in the world. We see children transition from foster care and into their families, and I’ll hear back year after year from these families about the improvement in the child and in the family,” Judge Gooding said.
Families like Joshua and Darlene Gibson adopted their first child Skylar, and they are relieved that “Gibson” became his last name.
“It’s a great day for us, it’s been a long process, about a year and a half. We’ve gone through some ups and downs, some good and bad but it’s all good now because we’ve finally got him,” Darlene Gibson said.