A childless woman and a boy in foster care make a permanent connection

TAMPA

In some ways, they were an unlikely pair: a teenage black boy who had grown up in a dozen foster homes and a 40-year-old white woman who had believed becoming a mother would come easily.

He had two failed adoption attempts. She had two failed marriages.

But in a courtroom packed with friends and relatives this week, they got their wish.

"Who do we have here?" asked Judge Katherine Essrig.

"Tammy Curtis. Mom," she said.

"Ron. Son," he said.

Ronderik had been in foster care since he was a day old. He lived in Brandon, South Tampa and St. Petersburg, where he had a bicycle until he moved yet again. Last year, he went to Mann and Madison middle schools.

Several watching in the courtroom had played a part in the match. The Children's Board Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay had featured Ronderik in their photographic exhibit that roams from churches to malls, events and museums.

The gallery started in 2005 and features about 100 adoptable children each year. More than 40 percent find homes. But older minority kids who have been in foster care a long time, like Ronderik, are often considered unadoptable.

Freddie Brinson, a recruitment specialist with Camelot Community Care, has been looking for parents for Ronderik for about five years.

"African-American males over 7 are absolutely the hardest," she said. She could see Ronderik turning 18 with no family.

She asked Tammy Curtis her standard first question: If you had your choice today, what is the age of the child you would want?

Curtis said she was open to a girl or a boy — maybe 3, 4 or 5 years old.

Brinson had gently expanded Curtis' age range.

Brinson doesn't attend every adoption, but this one was special. "It's hard to say what it was about her," Brinson said of Curtis, other than that she was serious.

"Some people come with an attitude of 'Let me try this one or that one,' " Brinson said. "These kids are real people with real feelings."

Curtis' single status and different race weren't roadblocks in adopting Ronderik.

Her brother, Jeff Curtis Jr., and father, Jeff Curtis Sr., are on board. When she was conceived, her parents married at 16. Curtis grew up in Temple Terrace. She always thought she would have a family of her own, but doctors told her she couldn't have a baby. Last November, fresh out of a relationship, she decided to adopt from foster care. She told her father it might take two years.

He said: "Tam, I know you better than that. You're going to adopt the first kid you meet."

Sure enough, she met Ronderik in April at a Junior League of Tampa Kids Connect event.

They bonded near a petting zoo over a rabbit.

"I stalked him for the rest of the day," she said in court this week.

They played laser tag.

"I knew right there and then," she said. "That was my son."

On June 20, her 40th birthday, they had their first unsupervised get-together, dinner and a movie.

They learned they both loved Disney and music, especially Elvis.

They both love to take pictures.

Every day, he texts her brother in Los Angeles, usually with a picture from his day.

"They're like peas in a pod," said Jeff Curtis Jr.

In August, he moved into her Land O'Lakes home. He started seventh grade nearby. He quit taking the psychotropic drugs he was prescribed in foster care and gained 10 pounds in three months.

Curtis brought two gifts for Ronderik. One, a Bible, has his new name stitched into the cover: Ronderik Jeffrey Curtis. He had taken a new middle name in honor of his new uncle and grandfather.

The other was a crown. She likes to celebrate her own birthday in a big way, with a tiara.

"You're my king," she told him.

She put it on his head. It was his 15th birthday.

A lawyer asked if he understood adoption was permanent. He can't change his mind even if he got really upset.

The judge asked if Curtis was ready to assume all the rights and responsibilities.

They both said yes.

She wiped her eyes.

He let out a big sigh.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3431.

A childless woman and a boy in foster care make a permanent connection 11/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 3:30am]

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