Attorney Sasha Stern, left, photographs Sophia Kuzia, right, and her newly… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
The balloons strung around the courthouse may have distracted other kids, but not Hector Arellano.
The 11-year-old showed up at the Edmund D. Edelman Children's Court — shoes polished, hair styled and with one of his best tie and sweater vest combos — ready for business.
"I'm here to see the judge so I can be adopted," he said smiling, standing just a few feet from his soon-to-be mom and dad, Susan and Clay Nichols, and his new big sister, Jessica.
Photos: Adoption Day
On Friday the Monterey Park county building that handles case after case of child abuse and neglect transformed into a place of celebration as more than 100 foster children were officially adopted as part of National Adoption Day.
The event, held nationwide for 11 years, encourages people to become adoptive parents. Hundreds of courts open the Saturday before Thanksgiving to finalize adoptions for families who have waited months, sometimes years, for their big day.
This year, about 4,000 children will be spoken for on National Adoption Day. Still, across the country, more than 107,000 children — 500 of them in Los Angeles — are waiting for the same chance.
"Many people have the perception that these kids are too old or too damaged," said Rita Soronen, executive director of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a partner in the event. "But that's simply not the case. They're just kids and they have the right like any other kids to have a family."
Hector went into the foster care system when he was just 2. His mother, who was 12 when she gave birth, could not care for the boy.
So he bounced from foster home to foster home over the years, living with five families. He spent the last two years in a group home after a series of behavior issues.
The Nicholses, married for 16 years, had raised four children between them and began looking to adopt in 2008. Clay is a dentist and Susan is a dental hygienist. Hector began to live with the family in January.
He showed up at their cabin-like home in Julian with a small duffel bag and a few suitcases full of clothes he had outgrown and toys that were mostly falling apart.
"He was very fearful," Susan said. "We had to show him we were going to love him unconditionally, not just temporarily."
On Friday, in a courtroom still decorated in pumpkins and spider webs, Hector proudly stood up and introduced his new family, one by one, to Judge Michael Nash.
"This is my adoptive big sister … this is my adoptive mom … and this is my adoptive dad," he said.
Minutes later, Susan and Clay signed the adoption documents and Hector Arellano officially became Hector Nichols.
"You folks all now belong to each other forever," Nash announced.
In total, 76 families adopted 120 children Friday at the Edelman courthouse. The diversity of the cases was clear as black, white and Latino children of all ages filled the halls, waiting for their hearings.
For many, this was the end of a long journey in the system, with constant visits to therapists, counselors, attorneys and social workers. They were ready to go home and start living like children, with soccer practice, sleep-overs, family dinners and play dates.
Of those adopting, nearly half were single parents.
Among them was Sophia Kuzia, a fourth-grade teacher who lives in Santa Monica. Earlier this year she adopted Valentina, age 2, and on Friday, she adopted Valentina's 15-month-old sister, Isabella Rose.
The girls have several developmental disabilities as result of their biological mother's drug abuse.
Kuzia, who had always wanted to adopt, dotes on the sisters. She has turned her condo's living room into a learning center. She also counts on the Alliance for Children's Rights and other community agencies to get help with physical therapy and speech therapy.
By Friday, Valentina had learned enough to know what the court visit meant, besides the clown and all the red balloons.
A new last name for her little sister.
"Kuzia!" she chirped. "Isabella Rose Kuzia."
Photos: Adoption Day