Children find ‘forever families’ at adoption event

Catherine Leake remembers when her foster child said he mixed his crayons with hers and couldn’t leave until it got sorted out.

‘I am gonna be here forever,”’ she recalled him saying.

Leake, a special education teacher at Sterling Grade School, went on to adopt the boy, then twins, and finally the boy’s sibling. The single-parent told her story to the 100-plus people who attended Saint Francis’ Adoption Day celebration on Saturday at the Sand Hills Event Center.

Nowadays, Leake has the four adopted children and two more foster children.

“I’m not planning on it,” Leake said about adopting the two foster children. “But I wasn’t planning on adopting before.”

Faith played a role in Leake’s decision to adopt. The Bible tells us to take care of children, she said. But for Amber Vaughn and her wife, Erica Vaughn, it was one of two options.

“As a gay couple our options are adoption or insemination,” Amber Vaughn said.

The Vaughns now have four adopted children: with the youngest being an “ornery” 3-year-old boy, who couldn’t stop picking his nose while Amber Vaughn told the crowd how people always say the children have her looks.

Adoption is an open discussion at home, but for the passerby, it’s easier for Amber Vaughn simply to say “thank you.”

Jennifer Treaster, an adoption supervisor for Saint Francis, said the caseworkers know the people that can handle “big families” and try to persuade them to adopt more children. They also like to get siblings into the same home.

The Adoption Day celebration is part of National Adoption Day, which is the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Treaster said this is the first time her region in Saint Francis has been part of the event. She said Saint Francis has thousands of Kansas children in its foster system.

The inaugural event in Hutchinson had six families adopt 10 children. Treaster said most of the children are from Hutchinson.

For Amber Manns, it’s taken two-years to finalize the adoption of her nephew, Onyx. Roughly 25 people came in support of the effort, wearing T-Shirts that said: “We are the village #TeamOnyx.”

It has taken a village to get to this point: family and friends helped with donations and babysitting, and monthly checkups were done by the Kansas Department for Children and Families and Saint Francis. Even for Amber Manns to leave the event with an adoption certificate required work from attorney Greg Bell and a signature from Reno County District Judge Patricia Macke Dick. Now it was official. Amber Manns embraced 3-year-old Onyx and her two children. Her village cheered on.

“It’s been a long two years,” Amber Manns said. “I am so thankful that he is officially my baby boy.”

Cheering is encouraged by Macke Dick, who’s been signing adoption papers for 29 years; she even adopted a child 26 years ago.

“Drum roll,” she advised the crowd each time before she signed the paperwork. “One, two, three. Ta da.”

Usually, Macke Dick tells everyone to make enough noise to be heard in the courtroom below. But on this day, in the Sand Hills Event Center, she implored everyone to make enough noise that patrons of Dillon’s on 30th could hear. Macke Dick said it was “very loud.”

It’s an event Macke Dick wants the children to remember. It’s also an event she’s already looking forward to next year.

“It’s a feel-good part of the job,” Macke Dick said.

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