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Pasco’s Adoption Day begins new journey for foster kids, parents

NEW PORT RICHEY — With both their children grown, Everett and Julie Schnell never envisioned the day would come when they once again would be responsible for raising toddlers.

Then a year ago, the Schnells adopted a relative’s son, Logan, 2-years-old at the time.

They didn’t stop there.

On Friday, as part of Pasco County’s fifth annual observance of National Adoption Day, they also adopted Logan’s sister, Khloe, 18 months, who has lived with them for a year.

“We’re starting over,” Julie Schnell, 55, said. “It’s kind of exciting.”

Khloe was one of 13 Pasco County children whose adoptions became final during the observance Friday morning at the West Pasco Judicial Center, where Circuit Judge Thomas Ramsberger oversaw the final paperwork that made the adoptions complete.

Usually, adoption cases are closed proceedings, but for Adoption Day families sign confidentiality waivers and cameras and news reporters are allowed in to witness the event.

Adoption Day means forever families for the foster children, just in time for the upcoming holidays. Court officials and Eckerd Community Alternatives, a community-based child welfare agency, also hoped to use the day to raise awareness and encourage others to adopt.

A similar ceremony is planned Nov. 22 in Pinellas County and the official National Adoption Day is Nov. 23.

“I know adoption is a journey,” said Donna Rasmussen, director of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program and an adoptive parent. “It has its ups and downs and twists and turns, but finally you’ve arrived at the big day.”

Chief Circuit Judge J. Thomas McGrady said adoptions are one of the more enjoyable duties a judge faces because “it’s nice to see someone happy when they leave a courtroom.”

“This is like a new birthday for the children,” he said.

The judge said currently about 120 foster children in Pasco and Pinellas counties are awaiting adoption.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, a Pinellas County resident, knows what that’s like. From the time she was 3 until she was 12, she moved from one foster home to another, often being placed in abusive situations.

“By the time I was 12, I didn’t think a happily ever after was in my cards,” she said.

Then 16 years ago, she moved in with a couple who became her adoptive parents and life changed for the better. Now Rhodes-Courter is the author of “Three Little Words,” a memoir of her life in 14 foster homes, and on Adoption Day she and her husband, Eric Smith, adopted 1-year-old Skyler, who hugged a stuffed bear and smiled at the cameras during the proceedings.

Skyler was the first of the 13 adoptions approved by Ramsberger. One by one, the other families came before the judge, answered questions and left with the paperwork signed.

Finally it was time for the Schnells and Khloe.

Everett Schnell, 58, said that as recently as a few years ago he would not have guessed he and his wife would be the parents of small children at this stage in their lives. The Schnells’ daughter recently completed a master’s degree. Their son is a student at the University of South Florida.

Now, with Logan and Khloe in their care, they are going back in time two decades.

“It’s definitely a life changer,” Julie Schnell said.

But ultimately a positive one, she said.

“There’s no laying back, no sleeping in,” she said. “It’s good. It keeps us up and running and healthy.”

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