NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – “Judgment for adoption granted.”

According to Superior Court Judge Deborah J. Venezia, sitting in New Brunswick, there are “no more powerful, no more important and no more emotional” four words than these.

Speaking at the Middlesex County Courthouse on Paterson Street, during the county's celebration of National Adoption Day, Venezia said that she was looking forward to saying that 18 times, as the adoptions of 17 children and one adult were finalized Tuesday morning.

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According to Master of Ceremonies James P. Nolan, Jr., Esq., this year marks the county's 10th year of participation in the annual event.

“National Adoption Day is a collective national effort to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in U.S. foster care waiting to find permanent, loving families,” he said. “This event has made the dreams of thousands of children come true, by working with policy makers, practitioners and advocates to finalize adoptions and create and celebrate adoptive families.”

According to Nolan, in total, National Adoption Day has helped nearly 58,000 children move from foster care to a permanent family.

Beginning in 2000, when seven cities opened their courtrooms the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize adoptions, there are currently more than 400 participating cities nationwide that dedicate a day in November to adoption finalization, he said.

According to Nolan, upwards of 4,000 children have their adoptions finalized during National Adoption Day each year.

Fifteen families took part in Tuesday's ceremony, finalizing the adoptions of 17 children and one adult, according to a county press release.

Presiding over the family division of Middlesex County Superior Court for more than eight years, Venezia said that she has only been working with adoption cases for the past two years.

According to Venezia, her predecessor, (Superior Court) Judge Robert Figarotta, (sitting in New Brunswick,) had a fondness for these cases that she didn't initially share.

“Judge Figarotta had a special place in his heart for the adoption cases and I could never understand, 'Why did he love it so much that he wasn't willing to step aside?'” she said. “Until one day, when he was on vacation, I was able to fill in temporarily, and do the docket, and it was then that I was bit by the love bug and I understood what it was about that docket that was so special to Judge Figarotta.”

Being the arbiters of such fraught situations as crumbling marriages, heated custody battles and the need for child support, Venezia said that finalizing adoption cases is a bright spot in an otherwise somber environment.

“As anyone who works in the family courthouse will tell you, we deal with so many difficult issues – they're not coming for happy things, it's families who are in disarray,” she said. “So the tone and the atmosphere of the family courthouse is not one that you would generally describe as uplifting. Except for one day of the month. On the first floor, we see more smiles, more hugs, more handshakes, more kisses, more posters and sometimes, yes, even customized t-shirts celebrating the day. It truly is a wonderful place to be because we are creating forever families.”

With Thanksgiving in November, it seems appropriate that National Adoption Day be celebrated during the month associated with giving thanks, Venezia said.

“You are the givers. You give your homes, your lives and your hearts to someone else … and it truly is an act of goodness,” she said.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-19, said that the families finalizing adoptions were to be commended for providing these children with a life-changing opportunity.

“You need to be congratulated for stepping up, making that personal sacrifice and bringing them into your lives,” he said. “You have now given these children such an advantage that they never would have likely had, and a life that they may never have had. So, thank you for that.”

Waiting for the program to begin, New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake passed out embroidered white ribbon stickers to scheduled speakers and said that the white ribbon stands for adoption awareness.

“In our country, we wear ribbons on our lapel for many different causes,” she said. “We realized in New Jersey a few years ago, that we didn't have ribbons for National Adoption Awareness Month. So, the color for adoption awareness is white, and so we've started, in the last couple of years, having our staff wear these to commemorate the recognition of Adoption Awareness Month.”

Brother to Middlesex County Surrogate Kevin J. Hoagland, adoptive parent John Hoagland, Jr. said he is the “proud father of an adopted child.”

After his oldest daughter Danielle was born six weeks prematurely, resulting in complications, and following the loss of two subsequent children, Hoagland and his wife decided to pursue adoption, he said.

“After two trips to South America, we brought home a beautiful 3-month-old baby girl, who has brought so much love to our lives and who I'm very proud to have as a daughter today and forever,” he said. “Nicole is a very loving daughter; she is also a loving granddaughter, niece and cousin to everyone in her extended family and I'm extremely grateful to have everyone in my family for the tremendous amount of love and support they've shown to Nicole since we were blessed to have her in our lives 21 years ago.”

Now a junior at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, studying psychology, Nicole has enriched the lives of him and his family, Hoagland said.

“She presents challenges, just like any other 21-year-old, but, above everything else, I consider Nicole a gift from above, a true blessing, a child that was brought into my life, and the lives of so many other people, through adoption,” he said. “When one door closed, another opened.”

With four grown children out on their own, Mary Francis, 50, of East Orange, is building another family, with two adopted children and two children that she is fostering, including one who is autistic and non-verbal.

“Starting all over again sometimes isn't too much fun, but I love them all the same, like they were mine,” she said. “I wouldn't change it for the world.”

Francis previously adopted her granddaughter, who was in the state's custody, and was finalizing the adoption of 4-year-old Zimora, her cousin's child, during the National Adoption Day ceremony.

Blake said that there has been an increase in adoptions such as Zimora's, in which children are adopted by relatives, in the past several years, and said recent research indicates that these types of situations are especially beneficial to the child's welfare.

Last year, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families facilitated 1,063 adoptions, and the department expects to exceed that number this year, according to Blake.

Two hundred children are expected to be adopted during November alone, which is National Adoption Month, Blake said.

The event was sponsored by the Middlesex County Superior Court, the Middlesex County Surrogate's Office, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Middlesex County Bar Foundation.

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