Meet the Sakales Family
Christen and her husband Michael fulfilled their long-held dream of adoption when they brought four-year old Lamaya into their lives. Christen recalls first seeing her future-daughter’s face in the Heart Gallery. She was drawn immediately to Lamaya’s bubbly personality caught on camera, and knew from that moment on Lamaya was meant to be her little girl. Michael, who was himself adopted as a child, relishes in having “two vivacious girls” in his life, and cherishes the daddy-daughter date nights he and Lamaya share. For her part, Lamaya is still the happy, fun-loving girl in the photograph, but with the added confidence that she is her “mommy’s world.”
Having overcome a rare heart condition, Lamaya spent the first few years of her life in and out of hospitals. But, with a fighting spirit and the help of a dedicated team of doctors, she became a vibrant toddler hungry for life. Every year on the anniversary of the Adoption Day, Lamaya and her family head out to the beach to celebrate the finalization that brought them all together. To quote Christen, Lamaya has “been in our arms for two years and we still can’t believe she’s ours. She was made for us.”
Meet the Guzman Family
The Guzman family began their fostering journey eight years ago when their desire to possibly adopt one child (preferably a girl) kept tugging at their hearts. Omar and Dania were a very young couple (late 20’s) with two very young biological sons when they started this journey. At the beginning, like many other new foster parents they only felt comfortable fostering children who were fairly young. After years of fostering in Orange County they began to feel more and more comfortable in fostering older children. It was a difficult experience when they got their first pre-teen placement, a very active 13 year old boy. Not only was it a new experience for them as young parents but also for their biological children who found themselves with an “older” brother. To this day they still communicate with him via social networking.
Omar and Dania’s hearts desires were fulfilled when they adopted their first child, Bianca, after a year of fostering children. Less than a year later they adopted Levi, who had been one of the first children placed with them. For the next five years, the Guzman family continued to foster multiple children.
In 2009, the Guzmans had a toddler girl (Lizzy) placed in their home. They knew she had two brothers (Jayden and Preston) that were placed in a different home but due to licensing overcapacity issues the siblings were separated. Through a good deal of advocacy Lizzy’s slightly older brothers were placed with the Guzmans and in December 2010 they adopted the sibling group of three.
In January 2011, they met 16 year old Jackie at an event sponsored for foster parents. Jackie was a teenage girl who was living at a local group home. The Guzmans very cautiously and after several visits decided to have Jackie placed in their home as a foster child. Almost nine months later Jackie was adopted by the Guzman family. They have faced many trials and tribulations, but despite it all the family is 100% committed to continue to provide for their 17 year old daughter.
For her 16th birthday, Jackie wanted to have a party and invite some of her friends, including 17 year old Erik who lived at the group home where Jackie had previously lived. Erik was a part of Florida’s Longest Waiting Teens initiative as he had been in foster care since he was two days old. The Guzmans fell in love with this somewhat shy teenage boy who was getting ready to age out of foster care with only himself. The Guzmans requested to “mentor” Erik and help him in transition into adulthood (he was less than two months away from becoming an adult). Never in a million years would the Guzmans think that this almost adult boy would sneak into their hearts as quickly as he did. Erik always desired to be part of a family and to have people he could call mom and dad. Erik knew that he had so much to offer by becoming part of a family unit. To everyone’s surprise, less than two weeks before his 18th birthday, Erik took a courageous chance and asked Omar and Dania to adopt him. He explained with heartfelt emotion how he had always wanted to be part of a family. It was a family decision and the family adopted Erik TWO DAYS before his 18th birthday!!!! To this day Erik is so thankful for everything his parents have done for him and speaks at Department of Children and Families events and adoptive parent training classes to encourage teenage fostering and adoption. With the help of his parents, Erik is now enrolled in college, something that he never saw himself doing.
The Guzmans have adopted 7 children and have 2 biological sons, which makes for very interesting days and nights and a home full of love and laughter. The Guzmans no longer foster, but continue to be advocates for our families in Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties.
Meet the Pettus Family
Adoption is something that has always been a part of Alicia Pettus’ life and thoughts - she and her sister were adopted by their stepfather when they were very young. While she was still a child Alicia promised God that one day she would grow up and adopt a child.
Years passed and Alicia met Michael, they were high school sweethearts, got married and began their family. Michael was a navigator in the Air Force, and Alicia was a nurse. Michael eventually retired from the Air Force and became a civilian flight instructor. Alicia moved on to work in the school system, becoming a nurse for children with special needs. They raised their children, were active in their community and became leaders in their church. For a year they assumed guardianship of a relative’s child. Then Alicia’s sister adopted a sibling group of three sisters. Michael and Alicia decided it was time for them to also adopt, and they completed MAPP classes in 2008.
Soon thereafter the Pettuses adopted two year old Arianne from foster care. Arieanna thrived with her new family and within a couple years Michael and Alicia started thinking of adopting again. They started the reapplication process but then the unthinkable happened. Two of Michael’s friends, Johnny and William, suddenly lost their father in a terrible accident. The boys were already close to the Pettus family and since they did not have a strong connection to their mother or other relatives. Michael and Alicia were asked by the Department of Children and Families if they would take the boys in. They agreed immediately and the boys moved in during June 2010. Even though the boys’ 18 and 19 year old brother and sister were “too old” for services from the foster care system, Michael and Alicia voluntarily took in the older siblings. The Pettuses understand and strongly believe in the importance of keeping siblings together.
The four siblings previously had a chaotic background and Michael and Alicia decided they wanted to adopt Johnny and William to assure them they were always going to be a part of the family. Johnny was 17 and William was 14 at the time. The boys’ case progressed and on June 30, 2011, just five days before Johnny’s 18 birthday, they were formally adopted into the Pettus family.
The Solomon Family
A vivacious sibling group of seven was adopted on October 5, 2011 through Mental Health Resource Center (CMO) and its Community Based Care Lead Agency Family Support Services of North Florida. The children had been separated since May 2009.
The children were placed in three separate foster homes when they were removed. In October 2009, the foster home placement the three older girls were placed in did not work out. The three sisters were then placed with Ms. Solomon, their future adoptive mother. Unfortunately, through the years, the brothers were placed in five separate foster homes.
Fortunately, the youngest sibling remained in the same foster home placement.
Ms. Solomon fell in love with the three sisters and through the years she grew emotionally closer to all the children. She held weekend visitations at her home and welcomed the children with open arms. She knew that Family Support Services of North Florida and the Mental Health Resource Center wanted to reunite all the children. In April 2011, the two older brothers joined their sisters in the home with Ms. Solomon. She worked diligently to ensure the children had appropriate bedding, enough space and that their individual needs were met. In July 2011 the two youngest children joined the Solomon home, making it a full house. The adoption finalization on October 5, 2011 was a date long awaited for by the children, Ms. Solomon and all the agencies involved.
Though it was long overdue, the adoption date holds love, joy, stability and family for the vivacious sibling group of seven.