Florida Fellows Pitch In for the Governor’s Explore Adoption Initiative

TALLAHASSEE – November was National Adoption Month, an occasion taken to heart by the women and men who comprise the current class of Florida Gubernatorial Fellows.

In service of the Governor’s Explore Adoption Initiative, the Class V Fellows volunteered their time and energy to raise funds and help with two important events.

On Nov. 13, several Fellows helped out at the Heart Gallery North Florida Exhibit and Reception. And on Nov. 23, Fellows contributed to a mass adoption ceremony at the Leon County Courthouse.

Governor Charlie Crist has made adoption and children’s well-being a priority in his administration, creating the Office of Adoption and Child Protection and the Explore Adoption Initiative (adoptflorida.org).

The opportunity to contribute was a dream come true for Fellow Andrea Arce-Trigatti, a Florida State University graduate student who has lived in Tallahassee since she was a child. Andrea’s been involved in community service since her early teens.

“I usually like to tell people that I want to go where I’m needed and where I can help people out,” said Andrea, whose Fellows placement is with the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

One of Andrea’s Class V colleagues, Jarrid Smith, is a Florida Atlantic University graduate student who participated in the Heart Gallery event at Tallahassee’s University Chevrolet.

The Heart Gallery is a traveling exhibit featuring portraits of children who are in the Big Bend’s foster care system and are available for adoption. Jarrid and four other Fellows greeted attendees, sold raffle tickets and answered questions, freeing up Heart Gallery personnel to focus on critical matters.

Jarrid, whose Fellows placement is with the state’s Department of Children and Families, grew up on the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation northwest of Lake Okeechobee.

“I was raised in a closed community where we worked together for the community, but I never knew how to get involved beyond that,” Jarrid said. “Now I have the knowledge about how I can help.”

Working with the Adoption Initiative came from a suggestion by Fellow Hugh W. Brown, Jr., Andrea said. In addition to the hands-on volunteer efforts, Fellows raised almost $1,000 to help adoption efforts.

For the mass adoption ceremony, Andrea said, the Fellows were asked to come up with ideas on “how to make the event special” for each of the 11 families who were finalizing adoptions in the ceremony that day.

Fellows decided to create for each family a scrapbook composed of numerous elements, including a note from the Governor, photographs, and a copy of a speech given by Theresa Flury, executive director of the state’s Guardian ad Litem program.

“It was everything I expected it to be: an emotional ceremony,” Jarrid said. “I just got the sense that these parents, it’s not that they felt they had to it. They just wanted this child in their lives. You could tell that they were so proud to be there.”

At the Department of Juvenile Justice, Andrea said, “I’ve seen children who have gone through such hardships. This provides hope for children – it can really change their future.”

Kelli Gebbia, executive director of the Florida Fellows, commended the Fellows for their service.

“They just have a drive to help other people,” Kelli said. “Jarrid and Andrea were placed at very important social service agencies, and Florida will be better for it.”

Fellows also are eager to share credit. Andrea noted how impressed she was by the work of the many social workers and case workers, including Guardian ad Litem volunteers, involved in a successful adoption.

“You could see that they have such passion and ambition to help families in Florida,” Andrea said. “When they did the ceremony, the families treated them like extended family members. They were part of the family, and they wanted to continue to be a part of this child’s life.”

For more information on adoption, please visit the Governor’s Explore Adoption Initiative at adoptflorida.org/.

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