12/07/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/07/2023 13:42
From left, Guardian ad litem Jessica "Jaycee" Uchida, Judge Darien Ching Nagata, the Delimont ʻOhana, and social worker Albert Pacheco.
HILO, Hawaiʻi - Hawaiʻi island Family Court courtrooms in Hilo and Waimea were transformed into whimsical wonderlands for 22 Hawaiʻi island keiki as they joined their "Forever Families" during an event that also marked National Adoption Day.
Held annually on the Friday before Thanksgiving, adoptions and guardianships that move children out of foster care, or prevent their removal into foster care, were finalized by the court on November 17.
"We affectionately recognize this day as our 'Ohana Day to celebrate our youth and our families in our community," said Family Court Judge Darien Ching Nagata. "This was our sixth annual celebration in Hilo and our first in Waimea."
Thanks to the artistic vision, design, and donations of Tehani Villalobos, the Children's Law Project of Hawaiʻi, Anna Madrid, and Judge Nagata, the Hilo courtroom was filled with blue, silver and white balloon arches and displays, shimmering backdrops and most importantly the love of all in attendance.
Families were treated to a photo booth courtesy of Anna Madrid of Lady Q's Big Island Event Services to memorialize the special day. Children received individually monogrammed backpacks filled with blankets, teddy bears and books compliments of The Jockey Foundation; family board games from the Children's Law Project of Hawai'i; gift cards from the Geist Foundation; gifts from the Hawai'i Department of Human Services; books from the Clinton Foundation and Kamehameha Press; diapers, wipes and other personal hygiene items from Hawai'i Diaper Bank; gifts from Jacky Mena; and certificates from the Hawai'i State Judiciary. Before leaving, children and families enjoyed cupcakes and fresh fruit compliments of KTA Superstores.
Nagata said she was overwhelmed by the emotion that filled the courtroom.
"Many times in Family Court we are faced with tough decisions, conflict, and adversity," she said. "Today, the courtroom was filled with pure hope and love."
During the proceedings, testimony from adoptive parents and guardians, social workers, and guardians ad litem was heartfelt and powerful:
"I am amazed and in awe of the love that this family shows every day to this child, whose medical needs are significant and who is going to need a lot of care for the rest of her life, and whose needs are not completely known yet. It is absolutely in this child's best interests to be with this family, she is so loved."
"Nothing like this has ever happened to our family, but I knew that when my nephew needed a home, there was nowhere else I wanted him to be. He is with his family, and we will of course take care of him and love him like a family should."
"This was a lot of hard times, but I feel blessed that CPS came into our lives. I didn't always feel that way, and there were a lot of hard times, but my grandsons are with me now, and I know I can give them the life that they deserve."
"We are thrilled to have our hearings back in the courtroom so that we could celebrate in person with the families. For some cases there were nearly 30 family and friends packing the courtroom. We also gave the option for parties to appear remotely and have their ʻohana watch via Zoom to celebrate the joyous event," Judge Nagata said. "We look forward to continuing with this yearly tradition in Hilo and hope to make this an annual event in Waimea."
Kenneth Goodenow and Ariane Moniz with the Hawai'i Department of the Attorney General, Valerie Grab, Sarah Rice, Madeline Tomasino-Reed, Laura Knudsen, and Jenny Rasmussen of The Children's Law Project of Hawai'i, Court Clerk Tehani Villalobos and Judge Nagata from the Judiciary planned the Hilo event. Judge Jill M. Hasegawa hosted the gathering in Waimea.
"When we first proposed holding 'Ohana Day we never imagined it would grow into the event it is today," Grab said. "Thanks to our amazing community sponsors and collaborations with the public agencies that serve our foster children, 'Ohana Day has become an incredible occasion that celebrates and honors loving families who care for our keiki."
Judge Nagata said Family Court is honored to be a part of a celebration to raise awareness of the many children in foster care waiting for a permanent and loving home.
"When we can grant an adoption or guardianship for a foster child or a non-foster child, we are happy to provide that child with permanency and a loving family," the judge said.