By Ed Runyan
For the Shaffers of Hubbard, foster parenting and adopting have become as natural and normal as the beautiful smile on the face of the newest permanent member of their family — 2-year-old Isabella.
They adopted her Thursday at the Trumbull County Courthouse during the annual Adoption Day Celebration hosted by the Trumbull County Probate Court and Trumbull County Children Services.
The girl, known as Bella Boo, is the 14th placement Neal and Michele Shaffer have had from Children Services since 2006.
She was placed temporarily with the family 20 months ago when she was just a baby, and she quickly became a beloved member of the family of six.
But the Shaffers knew, as they have with all of their foster placements, that if her birth parents were successful in reuniting with Isabella, she would be going back to them.
They accept that and embrace it, because they feel great satisfaction in being a part of the process of putting families back together.
“I enjoy the kids coming into our home, and though it’s sad when they leave, it’s truly rewarding to see how hard parents have worked on their case plans to get their children back,” Michele said.
Neal said it’s rewarding to show the foster children coming into their home “a better way” than the home life they had before, “to see something other than what they’ve seen.”
Michele is so invested in the idea, she serves as a foster-care mentor for Children Services, talking to other foster parents to help them.
Since 2006, the Shaffers have found that children who stay with them for more than a year or so are probably not going back to their birth parents.
“Usually if they have been with us for a year or more, you don’t have the heart to send them to someone else,” Neal said.
“We feel like they’re ours anyway,” Michele added.
On three earlier occasions, the Shaffers have had that experience — adopting Charles and William, now 13 and 12, in 2007. That was followed by the adoption of Hunter, now 7, in 2009. They also have one biological daughter, Chelsey, 16.
Michele said she wasn’t sure whether having a 2-year-old girl would challenge their 16-year-old, but “Chelsey loved her right away,” Michele said, and Isabella is “turning into a little Chelsey.”
Debbie Gregory, an adoption-assessment worker for Children Services, said during the courthouse ceremony that “all family members have fallen in love with Isabella, and she has become their beautiful, little princess.
“Isabella especially enjoys playing with her siblings,” Gregory said. “Her brother Hunter is considered her ‘partner in crime.’ All of the Shaffer children love Isabella, and she is their baby sister. She is truly a blessed addition to this family.”
Michele and Neal said they have a “wonderful” extended family that includes three uncles and four aunts on Neal’s side of the family.
“My parents are grandparents right away,” Michele said. “They are grandma and grandpa.”
The ceremony also marked the adoption of Jaden Bower, 20 months, whose parents are James and Cindy Bower of Kinsman; and Landon Bellin, 15 months, whose parent is Lisa Bellin of Cortland.
The Newton Falls Middle School Choir sang outside of the Courthouse to close the program. The choir director adopted a child through Trumbull County Children Services two years ago.