SALEM — It was a day of pure joy for 13 families at Essex Probate and Family Court on Friday, including Abimael Pereira and his newly adopted 8-year-old son, Nicholas.
They were joined by 12 other families who were celebrating National Adoption Day at the courthouse by doing just that: adopting.
“We’re all just really excited,” said his wife, Jessica Pereira. “This is special.”
The Pereiras traveled from Amesbury with their three sons for the ceremony. While the two youngest were born to the couple, Jessica had Nicholas before she and her husband got together. But that doesn’t make them any less of a family, Abimael Pereira said.
“I’ve known him since he was 1,” he said. “Right away, we connected.”
The family passed by four large wooden rocking horses on display at the court ahead of the adoption ceremony.
The horses were painted by high schoolers at Clark School in Rowley to commemorate these families’ milestones. For 16-year-old student Katie Ryan, attending the ceremony was a full circle moment.
“This is all kind of surreal because I’m adopted myself,” Ryan said. “It makes me happy to be back.”
Ryan was adopted at the Federal Street courthouse when she was a year old. She added colorful images of moons and stars to the horse she worked on for the event, and worked overtime with her classmates on days off from school to paint countries’ flags and other decorations on the horses in time for Friday.
It’s the sixth year Clark students have created art for National Adoption Day at the courthouse, said Jeph Ellis, art director at Clark School.
An adoptee himself, he spoke to the families about his own experiences.
“I know who my real parents are: Robert and Barbara Ellis …” he told the crowd of families. “I have lived a storied life, a beautiful life and at times a hard life. But I have never wondered who I am and have always been comfortable in my own skin.”
While most parents only have to wait nine months for a baby, Ellis’ parents waited nine years. And when an adoption agency called them for a sudden and nondescript meeting one day in 1970, they had no idea they would be bringing a 10-day-old infant back to their Rockport home.
They had to scramble to get diapers, formula and everything else a newborn would need. But they were a family, and would go on to adopt a little girl from Colombia named Carolyn, who has since adopted a son of her own.
“When you go through everything that you go through when raising a kid, and then they become a teenager, and they survive, and we survive, we come to this moment and I’m just incredibly proud of my son,” Robert Ellis said.
Artist and craftsman Don Stokes designed and built the horses from recycled materials provided by Mark Little at Abacus Builders of South Boston. Attorney Patricia Johnstone donated the saddles, while casks were donated by Ryan and Wood Distillery in Gloucester and Steve and Trish Castraberti of Prince Pizza in Saugus. Todd Flannery, owner of Flannery’s Handymen, donated his truck and manpower to transport the horses to the courthouse.
After the event, they were donated to the state Department of Children and Families visiting center in Salem, Adoption Journeys Child and Family Services in Lawrence, and the Children’s Law Center in Lynn.
Lt. Col. Marisol Chalas came to Lynn from the Dominican Republic when she was 8. She was the first person in her family to go to college, has been in the Army Reserve as a Blackhawk pilot for 32 years, is a nuclear engineer and an adoptive mother.
She adopted her niece Geanni in 2021, a year after Geanni’s mother died suddenly. While Geanni was already in her 20s at the time, it was an important step for the pair to take.
“Children never outgrow the need for family, even as adults. Adult adoption can be a powerful way to legally and permanently recognize a family’s relationship, as was the case for Geanni and me,” Chalas said during the ceremony.
Chalas said she hopes others will consider adopting one of the 100,000 children up for adoption in the U.S.
“These children aren’t someone else’s responsibility,” she said. “They are our responsibility.”
Contact Caroline Enos at CEnos@northofboston.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.