WATSONVILLE — When she was 19, Lani Almand met the girl who would become her first daughter.
Almand, now 27, said she was coaching a ninth-grade cheer team when she met 14-year-old Elizabeth, who was living in a group foster home. Elizabeth and her sister became Almand’s foster children.
Her experience with the foster care system and with adoption did not end there. She would go on to exponentially grow her somewhat unconventional family twice more.
“There are so many kids in this community who need homes,” she said. “We’ve built such a beautiful family, and I don’t think we could have done it better any other way.”
Those girls, now adults, got two brothers six years later when Almand and her husband Scott adopted twin boys, who are now 6.
The already teeming Almand family got even bigger on Friday, when Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Connolly signed the adoption papers of Winter, 4, and Weston, 6.
“With the stroke of a pen,” Connolly said in a courtroom packed with family, friends and Weston’s entire second-grade class. “You are now parents and children.”
Connolly’s signature put an official stamp on a process that began in May 2016, when Weston and Winter walked into the Almand home as foster kids and the boy declared, “I’m not leaving,” Lani Almand said.
“They are beautiful and wonderful kids that were meant for me,” she said.
“This is the first day of forever,” she added.
The Almand family was part of Santa Cruz County’s eighth-annual Adoption Day, when 13 foster children became official members of their own families.
While adoptions take place every Friday, the “adoption central” event was a way to mark National Adoption Month, said Trevor Davis of the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department.
Davis said called the event an “amazing day.” He added that official adoption is the final step in a “long journey” that begins when young people are thrust into the child welfare system.
“Many have come from traumatic and challenging situations,” he said. “To be adopted is a day of celebration and hope, in that we have linked these children to families who have committed to take care of them forever.”
There is still a need in Santa Cruz County for foster parents and people interested in adopting children from the foster care system. For information, call the Foster Care Recruitment Hotline at 345-2700.