Steve Pappas of Warwick knew what to expect, but it was no less meaningful. He was fighting back the tears.
It was a first for Erica Crossman of Cranston, and her excitement – and that of Isaac, who would soon be her son –radiated at National Adoption Day ceremonies Saturday morning at Kent County Court.
Cameron is the sixth boy Pappas has adopted. He was dapper in his suit, tie and top hat. His brother Wyatt was likewise dressed for the occasion, as was a foster child with the Pappas clan who can’t be identified because of confidentiality requirements.
An adoptee himself, Pappas grew up in Warwick. He joined the Marine Corps and was stationed in Europe. Following the service, he settled in New Jersey, where he owned and operated a school bus company. He was married but then divorced in 1994. Not too long afterward, he made his first adoption.
And why does he adopt? Isn’t it a lot of responsibility?
“I don’t know,” he answers, adding after a pause, “It’s my way of giving back.” He reminisces. The family has lost one of its members, the first boy he adopted.
“He passed,” Wyatt says. Neither he nor his father go into the details. Rather, they talk about Joe, the eldest at 32, who lives in Daytona, and Billy, who lives in Manhattan and works on Wall Street.
As for Pappas, he eventually learned the names of his biological parents although the records were sealed.
“Everything was closed back in the ’60s,” he said. He has met his mother and his sister.
Pappas sold the school bus company and in 2014 returned to Rhode Island. He calls himself semi-retired and drives for Uber and Lyft to supplement what stipends he receives from the state for fostering and adopting children. It’s not always easy, but Pappas adds, “I just enjoy doing it … they call me Mister Mom.”
Pappas sympathizes with foster children bouncing between homes and feeling rejected.
“They want a family, to be able to say ‘I’m yours,’” he said.
One of the two foster boys now part of the Pappas home asked him if he would adopt him.
“He’s so tired of being rejected, how do you say no to an 11-year-old?” Within the year, Pappas expects the boy will become his seventh adopted son.
The personal tribulations couldn’t dampen the excitement of the day.
The third floor corridor to Family Court was packed with kids and adults who barely quieted for the remarks of Chief Judge Michael Forte or even a performance by Rhode Island star singer Billy Gilman. Court therapy dogs got all the loving attention they could take. A dinosaur was greeted with shrieks and Paws, the mascot of the Pawtucket Red Sox, gave out high fives.
“This is the best day,” Family Court Justice Karen Lynch Bernard said between granting the adoptions that would come before her. She said she might have one or two adoptions a week, and they are always in contrast to the disputes and despair she hears. And then on Saturday, there was nothing but adoptions. She loved it, urging family members to join her at the bench for a group photo when the formalities had been completed.
Stories of adoption shared themes of bonding and simply knowing this was the right thing to do.
“He was supposed to come and visit,” Tiverton homeowner Rich Fournier-Marchardo said of Christopher. But when Chris arrived, he told Rich and his husband Roger that he would be sleeping over.
“He really picked us,” Rich said.
The Fournier-Marchardos started fostering Chris. They quickly discovered that he fallen far below his grade level and was having difficulty in school. They talked with the school and focused on his education. Meanwhile, they started the process of adoption and giving him a firm family foundation.
“It was very easy,” Rich said of the adoption that was finalized in May of this year.
Rich said Chris is “stable … there’s no doubt in his life anymore.” Chris is now working at the level of his classmates.
Jeff D’Atri said his wife, Stephanie, who works in early childhood development, suggested they adopt more than three years ago. He said he agreed immediately. They became foster parents to Bri and then adopted her. On Saturday, they finalized the adoption of Conner.
“This is the best thing to do with our entire lives,” said Jeff as they waited for their turn to enter the courtroom.