TAMPA, Fla. - Despite being in the foster care system since she was a year old, 17-year-old Ashanti never gave up hope of being adopted. She was raised by several temporary guardians, caseworkers and therapists but never had a parent to call her own until she met Dawn Philips.
Ashanti was placed in Philips care in April 2020. Philips took Ashanti to Texas over the summer for a change of scenery after being quarantined due to the coronavirus pandemic. While in Texas Philips came across the lyrics to the song ‘Where you Belong’ by Kari Kimmel. The words moved her so much she decided to begin the formal adoption process without telling Ashanti.
On Oct. 24, Eckerd Connects and the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay arranged a surprise adoption proposal in which Philips asked Ashanti to be her forever daughter four months shy of Ashanti’s 18th birthday.
On Saturday, Philips and Ashanti joined 29 other families to commemorate the adoption of 50 foster children in Tampa.
“She’s been in the foster care system for over 15 years. I wasn’t expecting it, but when we got here she teared up and said it is an emotional day and I agree with her,” Philips shared. “For a child who’s been in care for so long, their greatest hope is that they find their forever family and that all the children driving by found their forever family, so it’s very special and meaningful on our end.”
Typically, this finalization takes place at a special court hearing in which a judge signs final orders and takes pictures with the family. The closure ritual celebrates the moment the families become legally united. Instead, this year, the families celebrated with a drive-by parade, pizza, desserts and commemorative goody bags.
An official said, “This is what our child welfare system is all about. It’s about creating forever families and getting these kids in permanent homes and it’s a great celebration.”
November is National Adoption Month and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor proclaimed Nov. 14 as National Adoption Day in Tampa.
Eckerd Community Alternatives Hillsborough County finalizes approximately 360 adoptions each year.
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