BRADENTON, Fla. - The first hug from her new mom brought tears, smiles, and a sense of love Tuesday for 19-year-old Monyay Paskalides.
"With my signature, it is official," Judge Teri Dees said amidst applause and cheers via Zoom. "Happy adoption day."
Life sometimes brings an unexpected path. At age 11, Monyay was placed into a group home in foster care.
"Being told ‘no’ so many times, to hear that ‘yes’ and to hear them pronounce her as my mom, it’s something that’s like, oh my gosh, this is for real," Monyay laughed.
Before taking on the title of Mom, Leah Paskalides worked as Monyay's caseworker and mentor with the Safe Children Coalition.
"She was always a kid that did not deserve to go through life without a support system of a family," Leah said.
Monyay excelled in school, graduating a year early and volunteering to help foster children in similar situations.
Leah remained her support line but couldn't adopt her due to a conflict of interest with her job.
As Monyay aged out of foster care without a mom, Leah learned she could still adopt her as an adult.
"It was important to me that she knew that she was wanted by somebody, that somebody loved her," Leah explained. "I could say that as many times as I want, but actions speak louder than words."
The two are now working to raise awareness, hoping to show others that teens are waiting to be adopted and in need of permanent homes.
Eventually, Monyay says, she'd like to open a group home for teens. She wants to be there for others that don't have a family, helping to support them like Leah did for her.
"It’s never too late because I’m grown but I’m still being adopted," she continued. "Just because it didn’t happen then it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen."
And while it may take some time, the right family or person could be closer than you think.
"To me, this is closure," Monyay added. "This is something I’ve always wanted."