WATERLOO — The third floor of the Black Hawk County Courthouse was buzzing with activity Friday afternoon. Family members chatted and kids wandered the halls.
All were in attendance for National Adoption Day, which normally falls on the Friday before Thanksgiving. This is the sixth year Black Hawk County has observed the event.
As families and friends gathered in one of the courtrooms enjoying food and collecting gift bags, local judges were preparing to preside over dozens of adoptions.
The Juza family was immediately recognizable, all sporting “Team Juza” T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Lifetime member.”
Geoff and Molly Juza of Cedar Falls, who have two biological sons, Daniel, 5, and Matthew, 3, were at the courthouse to finalize the adoption of 2-year-old David, a foster child who has been in their care since February.
“Our initial thought was to adopt domestically,” Molly Juza said. “Then we got involved in the foster system, but the more we learned about reunification and keeping families together, our goal was to get David home to his family. When that wasn’t possible, this was a perfect Plan B.
“He has been a natural addition to our family. They play like brothers. They fight like brothers. It’s been a very smooth transition. He’s a typical 2-year-old. It’s been a great experience for all of us.”
The Juzas were accompanied by about 25 friends and family members.
“We brought our village,” Molly Juza said.
Angela and Albert “Carl” Herring kept track of their three grandchildren, Isabella, 8, and Joey and Alexia, 3, as they waited for their turn in front of the judge. The couple, who traveled from Horn Lake, Miss., for the proceedings, came to adopt their daughter’s youngest children. They already have custody of her oldest son, 15-year-old Jacob.
Their daughter had moved to Iowa from Mississippi with a boyfriend, got into trouble with drugs and lost custody of the children.
“The state took them,” Angela Herring said. “The two babies tested positive for crystal meth.”
The state contacted the Herrings and they immediately started working to get custody of the kids.
“Nobody is getting my babies,” Angela Herring said.
The couple got their foster license in February and the children were placed with them in March.
“It’s a lot of work, but you couldn’t give me a million bucks for those kids. They know they have a place to sleep and food to eat and that they will be loved and spoiled.”
Angela Herring said she is in weekly contact with her daughter, who is incarcerated.
“I love her very much. She is all for the adoption. She just wants to make sure the kids are safe.”
As family members visited, Jack Kendall, owner of the Cedar Falls and Waterloo Culver’s restaurants, was on hand to give out treats to those attending the event.
“We were made aware that the chief judge has a rule that all the families go out for ice cream after the proceedings, so we are providing fresh frozen custard. It’s a pretty emotional experience. We’re seeing lots of smiles, all the way from the kids to the adults. You can feel the energy in the room.”
The event was previously funded by the state, but due to current fiscal conditions no money was provided this year. Donations were raised by area businesses and law firms: Culver’s National donated more than $2,000 in gift certificates in addition to the local restaurants’ efforts; the Waterloo Public Library donated books for the adoptees; and Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart, Target and the Black Hawk County Bar Association contributed money.
Waterloo and Cedar Falls mayors Quentin Hart and Jim Brown attended the event. It was the first time for both.
“This is one of the most hope-filled events I’ve attended in my life,” Hart said. “As mayors, we get a lot of attention just by the nature of what we do, but these families are the real heroes — super heroes — for ensuring that these kids have the most successful life possible.”
“I actually have very good friends adopting a baby today,” Brown said. “It’s a sweet experience all the way around. It is a great thing to see these families taking these kids in to improve their lot in life.”
Judge Dan Block oversaw eight adoptions Friday, all the conclusion of ongoing juvenile court cases he presided over.
“It’s the best day of the year,” he said of National Adoption Day. “It’s like Christmas and having your first child all rolled into one.
“It’s a joy. It’s a culmination of all the hard work of social workers, foster care, the adoptive families, the extended families, the lawyers and the judges. I had one child adopted today who has been waiting for five years to get placed. It’s the happiest day in the courthouse.”