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Adoption picnic brings families, kids together

Mona Rious' eyes gazed over Philippe Park on Saturday as she and her 7-year-old daughter Cherith enjoyed a picnic lunch.

All around Rious were children of many ages and many races _ most waiting to be adopted.

The Riouses were among more than 100 families who met adoptable children in the fifth annual Adoption Picnic sponsored by the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services Districts 5 and 6, the Exchange Club of St. Petersburg and Intergenerational Festivals.

Rious said she already had one miracle _ Cherith. Rious adopted Cherith, who was 4 months old and living in a mission in Japan.

Watching the scene before her, Rious hoped for another miracle: a little boy or girl who she could love and with whom Cherith could play.

"I love kids. I'm crazy," said Rious, 53, of Dunedin. She is divorced and has no biological children. "I want another child for her _ a companion."

Cherith said she wanted a sister "because girls like Barbie dolls."

About 75 adoptable children from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Ocala, Palm Beach, Highlands and Hardee counties took part in the activities. They played ball, fished for trinkets and hoped they would find a family.

"We do not approach it as "families go shopping for a child,' " Marilyn Clubb, an HRS senior adoptions counselor, said about the picnic. "We have them interact so that adoptive families can be exposed to some of the kinds of children we have and relieve them of some anxieties and fears.

"The children get an idea of what kinds of families adopt. It helps relieve them of some of their anxieties and fears."

At the picnic, those interested in a specific child picked up a sticker with the child's name and a case worker's name and phone number. Potential parents can then call the case worker to get the adoption process rolling.

Clubb said the children in the program have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Last year, Clubb said, 12 children were adopted as a result of the picnic. In preceding years, 10 children had been adopted annually, she said.

Teresa and Steve Williams of St. Petersburg knew exactly what they wanted. They have two sons, ages 11 and 7.

But "we've been wanting to get a daughter since 1988," Mrs. Williams, 37, said. "We were really interested in having a daughter to complete the family set."

More specifically, the Williams' who are black, want a child of the same race. Mrs. Williams said black children are hard to place in adoptive families.

"There is a need to help our children," she said.

Paula Rodriguez and her husband, Ricky, were at the picnic with their sons Alex, 7, and Lee, 8. The Rodriguezes met Lee at this picnic two years ago, Mrs. Rodriguez said. Alex is their biological son.

The Rodriguezes attended the picnic to provide support to other families and answer questions.

Mrs. Rodriguez said she has considered adoption since she attended a party given for an orphanage when she was a teenager.

"It just struck me how horrible it was that I was going home and they had to stay," Mrs. Rodriguez said. "These children need homes."

Mrs. Rodriguez said that Lee was a disruptive child in school but that he has improved since she and her husband became his legal guardians two years ago. The Rodriguezes plan to file adoption papers for Lee by year's end.

And as for their son, Alex?

"He was all for (adoption)," Mrs. Rodriguez said. "The only thing was he wanted a sister. But we said "how about bunk beds (if you get a brother)?' "

Alex said okay.

For adoption information, call (813) 588-3625 in Pinellas and Pasco counties and (813) 272-2348 in Hillsborough and Manatee counties.