Howard Dunham, his wife, Robin, and 12 of their 15 kids donned skates, grabbed a camera for family photos and hit the ice at the Covelli Centre on Saturday.
The Dunham family, of Alliance, tries to participate in a family activity each weekend, but the family skate at the Covelli Centre this weekend was special — it was a celebration of adoption. The Dunhams have three birth kids, 10 adopted, and two foster.
November is National Adoption Month and the Dunhams joined about 200 other families with adopted and foster children for an open skate and mixer at the center. Kim Stewart, director of permanency planning at the Northeast Ohio Adoption Services, said the idea is just to have a good time and maybe even match up potentially new families.
“We just want to celebrate with adoptive and foster families. There are some kids here waiting to be adopted and some families looking to adopt, but it is really more just a celebration of adoption,” said Stewart. “This is a good way for families to get together and celebrate what they have done. Taking a child in the foster system is a challenging thing, but also rewarding.”
Howard Dunham said he and his family have no problem with the celebration aspect. In fact, the open skate will be one of the family’s last outings before another big celebration — Thanksgiving, which usually takes a minimum of two turkeys, two hams and a lot of fixings to feed the immediate family.
Dunham said a large family with lots of kids in the house just came naturally to him and his wife.
“We have always had her nieces and nephews and my nieces and nephews around. We thought about fostering for about five years before going forward. The first group of kids we had for five years before adopting them, and we just went on from there,” he said.
The adoption and fostering experience has been rewarding, Dunham said.
“You get to show kids a better side. Some of the kids we get have never seen anything, never been to even a zoo or anything. We just try to show them a better side with a stable home,” he said. “We feel we have made a difference.”
Theresa Pancoe, Mahoning County Children Services, said the county has 23 children waiting for adoptive homes. She said foster parenting is encouraged because that often leads to adoption. “The majority of our adoptions are by our foster parents,” she said.
Mahoning County, Pancoe said, typically places 10 to 15 kids in adoptive homes annually. There is an intensive six-month process, including classes and home study, for those looking to become adoptive or foster parents.
Toni and J.R. Saccomen of Youngstown have completed the process and have adopted a 16-month-old boy and are in the process of adopting a 3-year-old boy. They also have a 5-year-old foster child. All three children were there for play and food at the Covelli Centre.
Toni Saccomen said she and her husband have 23-year-old twin birth daughters and decided to look into adoption after the twins graduated from school.
“We had talked about it for years, but when the kids were out of school and doing their own thing, we decided it was a prime opportunity to check it out,” she said. “Our goal was to adopt two boys.”
Like the Dunhams, the Saccomens said the experience has been absolutely rewarding and the help from children services has been excellent.