TJ Martin and her husband, David, had kept watch on 9-year-old Valee since her birth. They had taken in her older brother, Drake, then 7, as a foster child.
The children’s mother died when Valee was 4, and their fathers have not been involved in their lives, TJ said, adding: “We knew we were getting her someday.”
In January, Valee was placed with the Martins as a foster child. On Friday, they formally adopted her.
Valee was among more than 20 adoptions in Yakima County Juvenile Court on National Adoption Day. The courthouse was abuzz with families eager to provide foster children a permanent home.
Valee beamed glowing smiles as family greeted her with hugs in the hallway before the courtroom doors opened.
Her story began with the Martins at the time of her birth. The Martins had just taken in Drake as a foster child.
Dave and TJ were both emergency medical technicians with Yakima County Fire District 5 at the time. Neither had intentions of adopting, Dave said.
“We just wanted to provide a safe and secure home with good structure to help them become adults and that was it,” he said.
Two years later, they were asked if they wanted to adopt Drake.
“My wife said: ‘Where do I sign?’” Dave said.
Drake is now 15 with a healthy sense of humor. In the hallway of the courthouse, he snuggled up against TJ and said: “I tolerate you,” in a fun-loving tone.
He then turned to a news reporter and said: “When you’re young, you love them. When you’re older, you tolerate them.”
Valee wasn’t the only one the Martins adopted Friday. They also adopted 27-year-old Melissa Stark, who now lives in Iowa with her husband.
The adoption was handled over the phone.
Stark was just 6 when Dave dated her mother more than two decades ago. Things didn’t work out, and Dave and Stark’s mother parted ways.
A few years ago, Stark contacted Dave on Facebook. She was in the hospital and needed information about an injury she suffered as a child.
“We were talking on the phone and TJ just burst out: ‘Tell her she can come live with us,’” Dave said.
So Stark did. Last year, Dave walked her down the aisle at her wedding.
TJ said Washington is one of the few states a family can legally adopt an adult who doesn’t have a disability.
“She doesn’t have any family — we’re it,” TJ said.
There were many other heartwarming stories that flooded the courtroom on Friday, including that of Sherri Ramirez. She adopted three children in a single proceeding.
That brings the number of children she’s adopted to six. She asked they not be identified.
On National Adoption Day in 2016, she adopted her twin niece and nephew, who are now 8.
In March, she adopted a 4-year-old girl she was fostering, and on Friday she adopted three more girls, ages 6, 3 and 1.
The five girls were clad in matching yellow dresses and the boy donned a gray herringbone hat. They all sat together before presiding court Commissioner Shane Silverthorn. They all applauded when Silverthorn declared the adoption final.
“It’s beautiful,” Ramirez said of her adopted children. “The more the merrier, because they all have the heart to love.”