It was a day in which the hallways at the Hunt County Courthouse were filled with images of Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk and other comic book characters and where 196th District Court Judge Andrew Bench and 354th District Court Judge Keli Aiken dressed as Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively.
But on the afternoon of Nov. 18, a handful of area parents and children were the real heroes, during the local observance of National Adoption Day, sponsored by Court Appointed Special Advocates for Hunt County.
The annual event, with the theme of “Calling All Super Heroes.” was conducted in Bench’s court and many of the children and adults were also dressed for the occasion.
“We are very happy to have you here today,” Bench said in welcoming the standing room only crowd in the courtroom.
CASA for Hunt County officials said three families will be formalizing adoptions for four children. Following the hearing, there were games and refreshments provided for the children, with banners proclaiming it as their “Beary Special Day.”
Farmers Electric Cooperative provided stuffed animals that were given as gifts to each of the children who wanted one.
During each adoption, one of the judges would ask the adult family members, an attorney representing the parents, a CASA volunteer and a representative from Child Protective Services and most importantly the children a few questions to make sure everyone was on board and in agreement.
The adopted children ranged in ages from nine months to teenagers, the latter being Alycia and Austin Lawton.
The brother and sister were the subjects of a stepfather adoption. Their mother Gina married Patrick Lawton. The couple lives in Royse City.
Following the hearing, Alycia, 15, said she was “very happy” with the adoption while Austin, 17, proclaimed the day as “awesome.”
In fact, awesome is apparently Austin’s favorite word as Aiken, who presided over the adoption, jokingly said it maybe his middle name from now on.
Aiken said the adoption was especially meaningful for Patrick Lawton, telling Alycia and Austin, “He can proudly say you chose him.”
“We feel great,” Patrick said, adding he and Gina have been caring for the children since they were only a few years old after the biological father left the picture. “Everything went perfectly.”
Gina said she was “overwhelmed” they were now officially a family.
“It has been a long road getting to this point,” she said.
Friends and family members presented them with a banner featuring a photo of the children and proclaiming “It’s Official!! Now you are Lawtons — Ours forever!”
CASA volunteers are appointed by judges in district courts who are hearing cases regarding allegations of child abuse and neglect. The appointees are assigned to meet and visit with the children and to act on their behalf when it comes time for the cases to go to court.
CASA was established in Hunt County in 2000 and is one of more than 900 such agencies across the United States. The agency is currently seeking new volunteers and also anyone interested in helping make Christmas a little brighter for the more than 130 Hunt County children currently in foster care.
Those seeking additional information can contact CASA at 903-450-4410.