Adopted Siblings Now Have A Home for the Holidays

December 23, 2010

The new Alford family on National Adoption Day 2010

Last year, six siblings spent the holiday wishing for a forever family; this year, they can cross that item off their wish lists.

 Bryan and Carla Alford met five of their future children at an adoption matching event hosted by Family Services of Metro Orlando and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in 2008. To the children – three girls and two boys – the event passed in a blur of balloons, face painting and games; but to the Alfords, the faces of the five children remained vivid in their memory. When they saw the same siblings at another adoption matching event a year later, they couple began to realize what might happen to the children over the next few years if nothing changed.

 “We asked ourselves, ‘If we don’t [adopt these kids], who will?’” said Bryan. “The time was quickly approaching where they would have had to try and be adopted individually. But the kids wanted to be together and… we didn’t want any of them to grow up wondering ‘Why didn’t anyone want me?’”

 This year, Bryan and Carla finalized the adoption of the youngest sibling, a two-year-old baby girl, and then adopted the five remaining siblings two months later during a National Adoption Day celebration in Osceola County on November 19, 2010. 

 Over the past five years, Bryan and Carla Alford have cared for nearly 35 local children as foster parents in Osceola County, Florida. Some have stayed in their home as briefly as one night, while others have remained there for up to three years. The Alfords maintain contact with many of the foster children they previously cared for, now as extended family and members of the children’s support networks.

 Now, as the holidays quickly approach, the Alford household is expected to be both hectic and heartwarming. The children have never seen so many presents under one tree and the reality that the gifts are all for them has yet to fully sink in.

 “I’m looking forward to Christmas ‘cause there’s lots of present boxes under the tree,” said nine-year-old Ivy, the eldest of the group. “And I’m happy because now we get to spend all the holidays together… It feels good to be adopted.”


One Family, One Community Celebrate 1,000 Adoptions

June 26, 2010

1,000th Adoption

Eight-year-old Melissa had been counting down the days until June 25. Little X’s marked her calendar, leading up to a big red circle drawn in excitement. She knew there would be a big party for her on that day, but it wouldn’t be for her birthday.

“After our two children went to college, we thought we were done raising children,” said Debbie Defour, Melissa’s new adoptive mother. “We never thought we would raise another family. But we’ve adopted four since then, and when we first took Melissa in, we just knew she was going to be part of our family.”

Debbie and her husband, Joseph, have made fostering-to-adopting a lifestyle and are active members of the Osceola County Foster Parent Association. On Melissa’s red-circle day, she became their fifth adopted child – and Family Services of Metro Orlando’s 1,000th adoption.

But they were not the only ones celebrated. As the Defour family waited in a packed courtroom, 17 other Osceola County families also finalized their own adoptions of 22 children.

Judge Margaret T. Waller presided over the ceremony that placed the children with their new families. “It’s always a joyous occasion when a new family is created through adoption,” said Judge Waller. “The 1,000th adoption is a joyous occasion the entire community can celebrate.”

Osceola County School Board Member Jay Wheeler opened the ceremony, followed by comments from Saint Cloud City Councilman and mayoral candidate Jay Polachek and Osceola County Chairman Fred Hawkins.

Afterward, many of the families gathered with their case managers to do just that. Family Services of Metro Orlando then decorated the Jury Room of the Osceola County Courthouse to honor and celebrate not only the milestone its 1,000th adoption, but the unforgettable milestone in each of these family’s lives.

Debbie and her husband, Joseph, had been excited for the day as well. “[Family Services of Metro Orlando] has provided all the support we need to go through with our adoptions,” said Debbie.

Family Services of Metro Orlando is the lead agency for community based care in Orange and Osceola counties. The non-profit organization coordinates services to families in need such as foster care, adoption and youth mentoring. This month’s adoptions in Osceola County were coordinated in partnership with Youth and Family Services, Children’s Home Society, Osceola County Guardians ad Litem, the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida, Children’s Legal Services, the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

During each of the past six years Family Services of Metro Orlando, together with its partners, has set new records for annual adoptions. There have been 219 adoptions during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, surpassing the 202 adoptions in the previous year.

Family Services Joins Florida Association of Heart Galleries

June 25, 2010
Establishment of Florida Association unites statewide Heart Galleries in purpose.

Family Services of Metro Orlando proud to announce its membership in the new Florida Association of Heart Galleries. This statewide network will provide support to existing heart galleries and assist additional communities in establishing new galleries of their own. Through the association, Family Services will be able to work collaboratively and efficiently with Heart Galleries all over the state, from Miami to Tampa to Jacksonville. Each city will share best practices for securing new display venues and creating brochures and other print media pieces for public use.

“It is wise for our heart galleries to pool their talents and resources to make our state even stronger in raising public awareness and recruiting forever families for Florida’s children,” said Jim Kallinger, Florida’s Chief Child Advocate. “We strongly encourage [all Florida heart galleries] to join the Florida association of Heart Galleries.”

Florida currently leads the nation in the development of Heart Gallery exhibits, with 15 in existence statewide. Over 40% of the children who have been featured in the Heart Gallery of Metro Orlando have been adopted.

Family Services new 2010 Heart Gallery of Metro Orlando will have its grand opening on September 15, 2010 at the Magic Experience Center in Orlando, Florida. This event will begin promptly at 6 p.m. and is open to the general public. Following the grand opening, the Heart Gallery of Metro Orlando will tour Orange and Osceola counties on public display.

Please visit our website for continuously updated photos of Heart Gallery children available for adoption.

Prospective Parents Meet Foster Youth

March 23, 2010

All Smiles 2

Adoption Matching Event is the first step to finding forever families for 45 youth

On Saturday March 20, 45 foster youth gathered at the home of Bob and Gwyn Picerne for an afternoon of food, fun and, hopefully, finding a forever family. The festivities were part of an adoption matching event that introduced potential parents with children who are awaiting adoption.

Bob and Gwyn serve as CEO and president of Embraced by Grace, a Central Florida non-profit that provides support to families who are in the adoption process, and their organization sponsored the event. A donation from Walmart also made the event possible. Volunteers from Riverbend Community Church provided extra help throughout the day and Lisa Davis painted faces for the youth.

The 20 families who attended were invited by Chala Barrington-Cruz and Shanda Moorman, adoption recruiters for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) at Family Services of Metro Orlando.

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is a program of Family Services that works to overcome the difficulties of finding forever families for teens and sibling groups by recruiting parents who meet the specific needs of each child. Several of the youth who are part of WWK are also featured in the Heart Gallery of Metro Orlando including Bethann, Josh and brothers Jazzpen and Jazzper.

The adoption matching event was filled with ice breakers that allowed both the youth and the adults to introduce themselves to each other. After the games, lunch provided an additional opportunity for everyone to get acquainted. Bob Picerne worked the grill for the 75 hungry guests including youth, adults and case managers from various partners of Family Services of Metro Orlando. The event ended with Marvin, one of the foster youth, reading a poem he wrote about his fear of aging out of foster care.

If you are interested in adoption, please contact Kathy Williams at 1-877-6-MY-KIDS or

Adoption Information Center’s Panel Participants

February 27, 2010

Partnered professionals shared their knowledge in the field.

As part of the Florida’s Adoption Information Center’s Adoption Training conference, Sharon Dues and Renee Walker of the Sylvia Thomas Center, Kayla Gasper of CBC Volusia-Flagler, Theresa Brown of Children’s Home Society Jacksonville Family Support Services and Salena Norman, Post Adoption Services Specialist with Family Services of Metro Orlando, participated in a panel presentation discussing Post Adoption Services in Florida. The panel took place in Tampa, Florida on January 21, 2010.