More than a dozen South Mississippi children will go to bed Thursday night with something they didn't have when they woke up that morning - the assurance that they're home for good. At the Harrison County Courthouse in Gulfport Thursday, a chancery court judge made eleven families official.
Just before his adoption ceremony, 17-year-old Nicholas Schwartz reflected on the contrast between his life now and day the state took him away from his birth parents. Back then, he says, he didn't know where he'd end up.
"That's the only thing that I feared whenever it happened, that me and my brothers would be split up," Schwartz said.
But all those fears disappeared as Nicholas and his brothers Brandon, Justin and Devon ages 16, 14, and 9 were all adopted by the same family.
"They took a big responsibility taking us all in," said Schwartz. "They didn't have to do what they did, but did it anyways."
Foster parents and foster children ready to make the leap to permanent families gathered inside a Harrison County courtroom Thursday. Eight-year-old Eugene has lived with the Tolers for two years.
A tearful Karla Toler said, "That is probably meaningful for him because he has wanted it for so long, the home and the family, and he's got it."
Eugene's new brother Dean Toler said, "He's so nice and I always wanted to be a bigger brother."
Debbie and Jesse Strickland were special guests at Adoption Day. The McHenry couple is preparing to adopt their seventh child in 25 years. What they've learned is that no child is alike and each comes from different circumstances.
"I think God gives you the grace and the stamina and the patience that it takes to love these children," said Debbie Strickland.
No matter what the challenges for Nicholas Schwartz, he says it's all worth having a family to call his own.
"It makes me feel good knowing that somebody loves me that much. I just makes me feel really, really good," Schwartz said.
According to the Mississippi Department of Human Services, 295 children have been adopted this year. Another 164 are eligible for adoption. Click here to learn more about adopting in Mississippi or call the Mississippi Adoption Resource Exchange at 1-800-821-9157 or (601) 359-4989.