Event Focuses on Creating Forever Families

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 21, 2015 issue of The Press Enterprise. View clip online.

Lillie Chasco Flores felt like a princess. The Riverside 9-year-old looked like one, too. A silver tiara sat atop her brown braids, and she cradled a bouquet of Gerber daisies in her arms. Some were purple like her dress.

As Lillie posed for photos outside Riverside County Historic Courthouse on Saturday morning, Nov. 21, she was flanked by two aunts. One of them, Hollie Flores, 60, soon would become her mother.

Lillie was among 40 foster children whose adoptions were finalized during the 15th annual National Adoption Day. In 15 years almost 50,000 adoptions nationwide have been finalized on this day, according to the founding organization.

In Riverside, the event has been held for the past eight years as a collaboration between Riverside County Department of Public Social Services and Riverside County Superior Court. About 278 adoptions have been finalized during those eight events, said the department’s Ryan Uhlenkott.

Flores’ path to becoming mom to her niece began Dec. 23, 2010. On that day she took in Lillie, then 4, and her three older siblings after their mother, Flores’ younger sister, was killed in an automobile accident. Flores was three months a widow and her own three boys were grown and out of the home then.

For more than three years, Flores fought for custody with the children’s father, who Flores said has a drug problem. The children shuffled between homes and court dates. For a stretch the father took them to Mexico, where Lillie said she was forced to beg on the streets.

Flores finally was granted custody of Lillie in April 2014. She said she decided to adopt her “to let her have the life she deserves and to be the child she wasn’t able to be.”

By then Lillie’s siblings were old enough to be on their own.

Planning for Riverside’s National Adoption Day started in June, Uhlenkott said. In addition to his department and superior court, local law enforcement and various groups turned out to make it a family celebration.

Tables filled the courthouse’s main hall, where families noshed on bagels, muffins or croissants while they awaited their hearings.

Kenneth Fernandez was one of four Riverside Superior Court commissioners who volunteered to preside over Saturday’s hearings. In eight and a half years he’s helped finalize more than 1,000 adoptions.

“They’re the most joyous proceedings we take part in,” he said.

On Saturday his chambers filled with smiles, laughter and tears. After each hearing, the court bailiff doubled as a photographer so families could squeeze together for a photo with one another and the robed Fernandez.

In addition to the court’s four commissioners, five court managers and a Spanish-language interpreter also volunteered to staff the event.

Jacob Fish, 14, of Temecula brought one stuffed bear for each adopted child. He’s done this for five years as part of his “Building Bears for Other Kids,” a non-profit whose idea he said came to him when he was 5 years old.

“I just think it’s a really good thing to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, Flores said Lillie had butterflies yet was on cloud nine Saturday morning. Lillie told her, “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”

“Me, too,” was Flores’ reply.