A judge never knows what to expect when they walk into a courtroom, especially when it comes to family court. At best, it’s the place where kids find their forever homes, but at worst, it’s where families are torn apart. When one Michigan judge walked into court for another day of laying down the law, she wasn’t sure if she was about to face the best or the worst of the system…

When she opened the courtroom doors and looked out at those seated there, what she saw was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. And it immediately brought tears to her eyes. 

It didn’t take long for David Eaton and his wife, Andrea Melvin, to decide that they wanted to become foster parents. They felt compelled to take in a kid in need, and they kept their sights on one ultimate goal.

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They knew that somewhere down the line, they wanted to adopt a kid of their own. But the fostering lifestyle is overwhelming, and the Eatons went through a rigorous licensing process. Even then, there was no guarantee they were truly up to the task.  

But David and Andrea persisted with the training process, intent on providing a needy child with a warm, happy home. They wouldn’t get a child immediately, however. Sitting by the phone, they waited and waited for the news that they were foster parents…

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They didn’t wait long. As soon as they laid eyes on 5-year old Michael Clark, Jr., the couple knew he was theirs. “It was pretty clear right off the bat that he was a really special kid,” David said.

Michael certainly is a special kid, if his infectious smile is any indication! The talkative kid fit right in with the Eatons and in his new kindergarten class at Wealthy Elementary School in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

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“The school embraced him as one of their own,” Eaton said. The proud foster parents watched as Michael made friends and set down roots in his new home. But something weighed on Michael’s mind, and the Eatons knew they had to address it head-on.

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“It’s something that scares him, that he can be moved somewhere again,” David explained. Foster kids don’t always have the luxury of permanent housing or a forever family, and Michael’s fears got the Eatons thinking.

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It wasn’t a difficult decision for David or Andrea: Michael was their rambunctious, amazing son and they were ready to make it official by legally adopting him! There was just one problem: Michael’s other family.

Carlye Allen

Since starting kindergarten at Wealthy Elementary School, Michael hadn’t only made friends. David explained, “He views his classmates as his extended family.” One person was instrumental in making Michael feel welcome.

13 On Your Side/ABC

When his teacher Kerry McKee saw Michael on her class roster, she was reminded of the main lesson the school tried to impart to its students, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” With this (and Michael’s adoption) in mind, she formed a plan.  

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“I always tell my students that you rise when you lift others, and that’s what we did with Michael,” she explained. Her plan wouldn’t be easy to pull off; she needed strategies, permission slips, crafting supplies, and transportation…

The Described and Captioned Media Program

“We couldn’t afford a bus so I emailed the parents asking if six or seven could take off work to drive the kids,” Kerry recalled. This was a tall order, and Kerry knew it. Still, their responses were surprising…

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“The next morning, 14 out of 23 offered to skip work and come,” Kerry revealed. The surprises Kerry would experience weren’t over yet: She knew a bus would be easier for transportation, but she got a less than favorable response from the bus garage.

“I called our bus garage and [the driver] said that I hadn’t asked for permission in time,” Kerry said. It seemed like they would be stuffing their cars with kids after all…that is, until the bus driver heard Kerry’s plan for Michael. 

“She said, ‘you can have the bus and I’ll drive for free.’” Astonished, Kerry accepted the offer, and on December 5th, 14 parents, 18 kindergarteners, and a group of staff from the school boarded the bus to the surprise location. 

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When Michael and his parents-to-be arrived at the courthouse that morning, they were greeted by the sea of kindergarteners and well-wishers from the school, all carrying rulers topped with construction-paper hearts. Everyone had tears in their eyes…

Kent County 17th Circuit Court

Even the judge! As soon as she banged her gavel (with Michael’s help!) and made him a permanent member of the Eaton family, even she couldn’t hold back her tears. Michael himself couldn’t contain his true feelings. 

Inside Edition

The little boy, who had been shepherded between houses for so long, had finally found his forever home, but was he still afraid of being moved? “We told him that this will be his home forever,” David said, and Michael had just one response.

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“I love my Daddy!” he said happily. Everyone could feel the love that day in the courtroom, especially Kerry, who made sure it all happened without a hitch, though she didn’t expect the moment to go viral!

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“I am riding this love wave with such passion because I feel so honored and blessed that anyone, even you, is interested in what we did in little old Grand Rapids Michigan,” she told news reporters. Michael’s adoption day was truly an unusual event…

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After all, it isn’t every day that an adoption is witnessed by an audience of 5-year-olds! “Family doesn’t have to be DNA,” Kerry said in front of her own extended school family. “Family is support and love.” 

Carlye Allen

Family truly isn’t bound to DNA, something the Eatons learned first-hand. It takes as much courage as compassion to foster children, especially since doing so can result in a roller-coaster of surprises. As the Shank family learned, you have to expect the unexpected…

When Sara Cozad went out on her first date with Stuart Shank, the subject of her hopes and dreams came up pretty quickly. At 19, Sara wasn’t sure what she wanted for her future, with the exception of one thing.

Sara Cozad / Facebook

Kids! It wasn’t an uncommon dream to have, but Sara was different than most people: she didn’t want to have kids of her own — she wanted to adopt.

Stuart, it seemed, was in full support of Sara’s mission, and after marrying in 2014, they went right to work to make this dream a reality. In fact, just two weeks after returning from their honeymoon, the couple began their foster parent training.

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Sara and Stuart’s initial plans for fostering only involved infants and toddlers, as they felt they weren’t yet equipped to handle grown children. After all, the two were just barely beyond their teenage years themselves.

cozyd / Instagram

With that in mind, it wasn’t long before the couple received a call about a baby in need of a home. They cared for the child for only a week, but following the experience, they knew being foster parents was what they were meant to do.

cozyd / Instagram

Just a few days later, the newlyweds got another call from child protective services, though this time social workers were looking to place a three-year-old boy named Michael. With the child only expected to share their home for a weekend, the couple happily obliged.

cozyd / Instagram

Yet as soon as their newest care walked through the door, Sara and Stuart fell in love. Michael, too, was immediately taken with his foster parents, and three of them knew right then and there that a few days together simply just wouldn’t do.

So, Michael stayed for the weekend, and the weekend after that one, too. As days turned to weeks, and those weeks into months, Sara and Stuart began getting used to the idea of making an addition to their budding family. Then, they got a call.

cozyd / Instagram

Apparently, Michael wasn’t an only child — he had an older brother named Dayshawn. The ten-year-old had also been bouncing around the foster system, and CPS was looking to reunite the boys, if only just for a short time.

cozyd / Instagram

And so, Sara and Stuart agreed to a supervised sibling visit between the two boys. They brought Michael to a nearby playground, and when the three-year-old spotted his big brother, his reaction nearly brought his foster parents to tears.

cozyd / Instagram

Michael sprinted over to Dayshawn and leaped into his arms, squeezing his brother with all his might. Seeing the bond these two young boys shared was incredibly moving, and Sara and Stuart both knew they couldn’t let the brothers be separated again.

cozyd / Instagram

So, despite their plan to only foster small children, the couple welcomed Dayshawn into their home. Sara was hesitant at first, but after being around her new foster son for just a few days, all of her misgivings went completely out the window.

Sara Cozad / Facebook

“Dayshawn breaks every single stereotype about teens in foster care,” Sara wrote in a post on Love What Matters. “He is the most empathetic and compassionate person I’ve ever met… He doesn’t even seem to notice that I’m so young (or he just doesn’t care.) To him, I’m just his mom.”

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Yet even with both Michael and Dayshawn now in their care, Sara and Stuart knew that things wouldn’t be this way forever. They were their foster parents after all, and at moment’s notice, the two boys could be out of their lives forever.

cozyd / Instagram

Still, that didn’t stop the couple from caring for them as if they were their own, even as they began fostering other children alongside them. But with each wave goodbye, Sara and Stuart knew there were two boys they just weren’t ready to see go.

Sara Cozad / Facebook

And so, on August 18th, 2018, a sleek white limousine pulled up outside Sara and Stuart’s home to bring them to the local courthouse. In just a matter of hours, Michael and Dayshawn would officially have a family to call their own.

Sara Cozad / Facebook

Surrounded by friends and relatives, the four sat as the judge carried out the adoption proceedings. But as she asked for the boys’ consent to be adopted, Dayshawn interrupted to reveal his true feelings about his soon-to-be parents.

Sara Cozad / Facebook

“We love them,” Dayshawn said as Sara let tears of joy flow freely. “I’m glad to be their son… If I could wish for anything in the world, I would wish I could just love these people for the rest of my life.”

Sara wasn’t the only one in tears, as by this point there wasn’t a dry eye in the entire courtroom. Even the judge was moved by the boy’s words, and with the bang of her gavel, Sara, Stuart, Michael, and Dayshawn officially became a family.

Sara Cozad / Facebook

Sara and Stuart never expected to become parents to two wonderful boys – let alone one that was nearly a teenager – yet life has a funny way of changing our plans. Just ask Liz Smith, whose life was turned upside down after meeting one special little girl.

Liz Smith / Facebook

As the Director of Nursing at the Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, Liz had experienced her fair share of triumph and heartbreak on the job. Yet nothing could prepare the veteran nurse for the day she met Gisele.

Liz had spotted baby Gisele in the hallway of the hospital, watching as one of the other nurses carried her into the infant care ward. At the sight of the child’s bright blue eyes, Liz immediately fell in love.

The Boston Globe

Though as she learned more about the hospital’s newest resident, Liz felt her heart grow heavy in her chest. Evidently, Gisele was suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome, as her birth mother had used a number of heavy drugs during her pregnancy.

KJZZ

Gisele was born prematurely and weighed under two pounds at birth. The original hospital where she was born proved unequipped to care for the delicate infant, and so at three months, she was transferred into Liz’s care at Franciscan.

Franciscan Children’s Hospital

Liz was heartbroken over this news, though a new realization about the child shattered her to pieces. Gisele – who was then eight-months-old – hadn’t received a single visitor while in her care. For five months, this innocent child was all alone.

KJZZ

As Liz drove home from the hospital that night, she couldn’t shake Gisele’s striking blue eyes from her head. Then, with absolute certainty, another thought entered her mind: “I’m going to foster this baby. I’m going to be her mother.”

KJZZ

For years, the veteran nurse was content to be an aunt to her nieces and nephews, though from an early age, she always knew she wanted to be a mom. Liz felt that her time was running out…

Liz Smith / Facebook

Even at age 43, Liz was unwilling to put her dream of having children aside and opted to explore IVF options. Unfortunately, Liz was deemed unsuitable for the procedure, putting motherhood out of reach… or so she thought.

Liz Smith / Facebook

But she was getting ahead of herself — after all, this child still had biological parents somewhere out there. So, Liz did the next best thing to becoming a mother: she applied to foster Gisele for the rest of her recovery.

Parents.com

And just three weeks later, the state approved Liz’s application, allowing the nurse to take Gisele home with her. Everyone, from Liz’s family to her coworkers, was ecstatic over the news, and they set to work helping the new foster mom build a nursery for Gisele.

The Today Show

“Leaving the parking lot of the hospital with Gisele…I was in shock that it was happening,” said Liz. “I was excited but nervous, realizing that I was committing everything I had to this child who might not be in my life forever.”

The Today Show

During Gisele’s time with Liz, the state allowed her birth parents every opportunity to visit. But after months of lackluster results and little effort on the part of the parents, they were officially deemed unfit to care for Gisele.

Liz Smith / Facebook

“The day I got the call that their parental rights were terminated was very sad,” Liz recalled. “My gain was another’s loss. It’s a feeling difficult to describe when you are experiencing this life-changing moment that someone else is as well, in the opposite way.”

People

Yet as sad as the situation was, Liz couldn’t help but feel that her dream of parenthood was finally about to come true. She petitioned the state to officially adopt Gisele, and when her application came back, she couldn’t believe it.

Momspresso

They said yes! On October 18, 2018, Liz and Gisele officially became a family. Surprisingly, out of the many admirers that attended the confirmation that day, the judge was the most vocal in support of the adoption.

The Boston Globe

“When a judge walks in the room, everyone stands out of respect,” said the judge. “But today I stand in respect for you, Liz,” she said. “A birthing day is a miracle. But adopting a child from miles away is destiny. That’s what brought you two together.”

KVOA

Following the adoption, Liz and Gisele’s story spread far and wide, melting the hearts of millions all over the world. Even The TODAY Show took notice, inviting the pair to appear and share their remarkable journey.

The Today Show

“I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to say good morning to her. To pick her up at daycare. To have her run to me and ask for food now that she’s eating,” Liz later told The Boston Globe. “I never imagined that I could have a best friend who is 2.”

The Boston Globe

In the time that Gisele – now two years old – has been in Liz’s care, she’s made remarkable medical strides. After receiving most of her daily nutrition from a feeding tube as an infant, she’s begun eating by mouth and has even developed a taste for pizza and avocados.

USA Today

“If you told me a year ago she would be asking for pizza I would not have believed you,” said Liz. “She’s doing remarkably, it’s just a slow progression, but in the right direction.”

KVOA