HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — The holidays are meant for ‘ohana, but many keiki spend this season without a forever ‘ohana to call their own.

The Hawai’i State Judiciary announced that 16 keiki took part in a special adoption ceremony as a way of celebrating the holidays and ‘Ohana Day and to make the occasion that much more memorable for everyone involved.

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The event took on a local flavor on Saturday, Dec. 17 as adoptions for these keiki were finalized by the Third Circuit Family Court last month and they officially joined their forever ‘ohana.

The judiciary decided to make the event whimsical as the courtroom was decorated like a wonderland.

“We affectionately recognize this day as our ‘Ohana Day to celebrate our youth and our families in our community,” remarked Family Judge Darien Ching Nagata.     

The Hilo Family Court’s Fifth Annual Adoption Day celebration was planned by Teresa Witten of the Department of Human Services, Kenneth Goodenow and Ariane Moniz of the Department of the Attorney General, Valerie Grab and Jenny Rasmussen of the Children’s Law Project of Hawaii, attorney Jacky Mena and Judge Nagata.

The courtroom was filled with balloon arches and columns, flowers and silky backdrops and drapery as Mena and her cousin Daniel Madrid created the wonderland from their artistic vision, design and donations.

Sarah Anderson provided professional photography services for the celebration. The newly minted ‘ohana were captured as they celebrated.

Gifts were given to the keiki. They received individually monogrammed backpacks that were filled with blankets, teddy bears and books. These gifts were generously supplied by Jockey, family board games from CLPH, gift cards from the Geist Foundation, gifts from DHS, books from the Clinton Foundation and certificates from the Judiciary.    

As part of the celebration, K.T.A. Superstores provided cupcakes and fresh fruits.

“Many times in family court, we are faced with tough decisions, conflict and adversity. Today, the courtroom was filled with pure hope and love,” Nagata said.    

The celebration is the brainchild of Grab of CLPH. Grab first approached Judge Nagata over five years ago wanting to create a special celebration to commemorate adoptions in Hilo.

“When we first proposed holding ‘Ohana Day, we never imagined it would grow into the event it is today,” said Grab. “Thanks to our amazing community sponsors and collaborations with the public agencies that serve our foster children, ‘Ohana Day has become an incredible occasion that celebrates and honors loving families who care for our keiki.”      

“We are honored to be a part of a celebration to raise awareness of the many children in foster care waiting for a permanent and loving home. When we can grant an adoption or guardianship for a foster child or a non-foster child, we are happy to provide that child with permanency and a loving family,” said Judge Nagata.       

This marks the first year the adoptions were in-person since the pandemic began.

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“We are thrilled to have our hearings back in the courtroom so that we could celebrate in person with the families. We also did leave the option for parties to appear remotely and have family and friends watch via Zoom to celebrate the joyous event,” said Judge Nagata. “We look forward to continuing with this yearly tradition and hope to continue to grow this event and provide more and more youth with forever homes.”