NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - When Gianni Dias-Raimundo found out at 8 years old that she was adopted, the revelation didn’t come out of left field.
Gianni had, until that moment, always found something to be amiss. For one, her parents, adopted brother and family were all white.
Years later, the now 17-year-old Elizabeth resident is a straight-A student, aspiring nurse and Rutgers School of Nursing hopeful.
Looking back, Gianna said she’s thankful that her parents told her early on that she was adopted.
“I understood,” Gianna said. “If I was a lot older, I would have overreacted.”
These adoption ceremonies are nothing new to Gianna, who is often invited to speak at them, including the one hosted at the Middlesex County Courthouse on the morning of November 14.
The county and state teamed up this particular ceremony on November 14; the ninth such ceremony held in observance of National Adoption Day, in connection with many more held across the country.
The program was started in 2000, according to Jim Nolan, an attorney for the Middlesex County Bar, and since then, over 60,000 children have been adopted.
On November 14, county and state officials celebrated National Adoption Day with the official ceremony for 18 adoptees; 17 children and one adult.
The actual ceremony was done in private, officiated by Judge Deborah J. Venezia and went into the afternoon. Parents and families waited in an adjacent conference room where they were treated to breakfast, gifts and different children’s activities.
“Adoption is a choice, a voluntary act, one that doesn’t have to happen, but does, because someone decides to open their heart and their home for another,” Venezia said in a public portion of the ceremony.
“The people sitting next to you, the mom with tears in her eyes, the mom and dad who look so joyous, you guys as a family have gone through an amazing journey together,” said Lisa Von Pier, Assistant Commissioner of Child Protection and Permanency.
The process of adopting and raising a child can seem arduous and confusing at first, and take many years to see the fruit of labor.
To demonstrate that point, Von Pier told the story of her 11-year-old, who was two when he was adopted, and in this particular instance, was trying to practice the trumpet, only to become frustrated and on the verge of quitting.
Von Pier coached her son for the next 45 minutes, and by the end, he nailed the progression of the six different notes on the trumpet.
“He was what we call cherry tomato cheeks, those were lit up,” Von Pier said. “Those are the moments we live for as parents, those 45 minutes when our kids have something they want to do, that they want to accomplish, and they try it and maybe don’t get it the first time, and we’re there with them, no matter how loud and squeaky it is, and we give them the confidence and encouragement.”
Other parents who were there said this was the happiest day of their lives, despite the challenges that may lie ahead.
Dawn Scotto Di Uccio and her husband, Antimo, picked up their daughter from the hospital at just 10 days old. The child, whom they named Alexia, was born addicted to drugs, because of substance abuse problems the mother had while pregnant.
She’ll be eligible for financial aid from the state for any treatment, and her parents intend to periodically monitor Alexia to make sure she’s healthy.
With the daughter now seven months old, the couple says things are looking up.
“We couldn't have children of our own, and we got married a little later in life,” Dawn said. “So we decided, I’m a teacher, I’ve seen kids come through the foster care system that I’ve taught and I thought, ‘maybe I could make a difference like that.”
Other people at the ceremony felt “relieved” for the process to finally be over like Joanne and Glenn Gaston.
The couple technically adopted 6-year-old Joseph Gaston after Joseph’s father, who was the son of Joanne and Glenn, passed away, followed by the mother.
“We’re excited and happy and relieved that it’s finalized and that he’s not a ward of the state,” Joanne said. Joseph has always been under Glenn and Joanne’s roof as a grandchild.
“Since birth I had him, we bonded with him from birth,” Joanne said.