Celebrating adoptions Recognition: About two dozen families that have adopted children who are siblings and children with special needs are honored in the first statewide celebration of adoptive families.

December 06, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Four-year-old Alex Ponicki snuggled proudly in his mother's arms yesterday while his letter was read aloud.

To the crowd of 250 parents, children and social workers at the first statewide celebration of adoptive families, the words were poignant: "Being adopted means a kid goes to a different family and gets kisses and hugs forever."

The awards ceremony at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Cedonia honored almost two dozen families who have adopted siblings and children with special needs -- some of the most challenging children to find homes for.

"You deserve recognition," Stephanie J. Pettaway, adoption manager for the state, told the families. "You have a lot of love, commitment and giving."

As the letters from Alex and other adoptive children attest: "Being adopted means that you do not have to be on the streets."

"It doesn't matter what color skin you have."

"My life was a bad, miserable time."

"Adoption means that you have a family that cares about you."

Alex, who was dressed in a grown-up shirt, tie and crew-neck sweater for the ceremony, is one of four brothers adopted by Leslie and Nancy Ponicki of Street. Jack, 14, was first when he was 4. His brothers' adoptions -- John 6; Mark, 5; and Alex -- became final two weeks ago.

"I love them," said Jack, a shy, blond ninth-grader at Fallston High School. "I knew we'd be together."

Staff members and county departments also were recognized yesterday by the state Department of Human Resources for a 25 percent increase in adoptions -- from 411 in 1995 to 512 in 1996, the most recent figures available. Baltimore, Montgomery and Washington counties were singled out for impressive jumps.

The boost in adoptions is credited to a nationwide directive from President Clinton and an initiative by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Human Resources Secretary Alvin C. Collins, a spokeswoman said.

Anthony and Sue Ellen Greenfield of Westminster -- parents of five boys ages 5 1/2 months to 14 -- received an "outstanding family" plaque at the ceremony. The couple, who tried for three years to have biological children, turned to adoption.

"We were looking for one, two, maybe three children," said Anthony Greenfield, 27, a machinist.

But the Greenfields soon found themselves with a ready-made family of four brothers -- and then learned the day before the adoptions were final last year that Mrs. Greenfield, 31, was pregnant.

Now, the family of rough-and-tumble boys lets loose in a 150-year-old farmhouse on an acre.

"When things get hectic, we can spread them out," said Mr. Greenfield. "It's a lot of fun. The joys certainly outweigh the hard times."

Many adoptive families go through tough situations -- and

somehow manage.

Janet and Darius Riley of Cambridge have adopted four boys -- ages 6 to 21 -- with special needs.

"He's already outlived his life span," said Darius Riley, 55, a nurse, nodding toward Dwight, 6, who has a chromosomal disorder that causes mental retardation.

Then, there's Andrew, 7, who, with a heart malformation and fetal-alcohol syndrome, was expected to be retarded. "He got all A's and is on the principal's list," his proud father said.

The couple -- whose birth child, Darius Riley Jr., 28, died in a car accident last year -- credit God for their strength.

"Our lives are our children," said Mrs. Riley, 48, a respiratory therapist who alternates three 12-hour work shifts with her husband, so one of them is always home with the children. "It's the most rewarding thing you can do."

Like many other couples adopting special-needs children, Gordon and Nancy Colby of Elkton faced the warnings of relatives.

"Initially, before they met Sam, they said, 'Are you sure you want to do this? You'll be taking care of him for the rest of your life,' " said Nancy Colby, 32. "Once they met Sam, that was the end of it."

Sam, a bright-eyed 5 1/2 -year-old, has Angelman syndrome, a rare chromosomal defect that causes severe mental retardation. When he arrived at the Colby household at age 3, he was lethargic and at a 3-month developmental level. Now, he has progressed to a 2 1/2 -year-old level.

"It's definitely been worth it," said Nancy Colby, who since has adopted 6 1/2 -month-old Brooke. "People should look beyond looking for the perfect newborn infant everyone wants. There's more to it. You can turn a child around."

Pub Date: 12/06/97

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