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After last-minute lucky break, mom and adopted daughter celebrate first Thanksgiving

A mother and adopted daughter celebrated their first Thanksgiving: "This is going to be her forever home."

Just last week, it looked like Darlene and Rhodabell Legrand would have to wait until Christmas to celebrate their first holiday together as mother and daughter.

Darlene Legrand was scheduled to adopt Rhodabell late in December, but the 10-year-old had told her lawyer that more than anything she wanted to be adopted on National Adoption Day, which is held the Saturday before Thanksgiving. There's a ceremony at the Baltimore courthouse and a party for the new families.

"I had heard it was really fun," Rhodabell said.

The attorneys and the judge handling the case pushed to make things work out, and by late Friday all the pieces were in place. Legrand, 53, captured the moment when she told Rhodabell the news on video.

"What if it's possible that you get adopted tomorrow?" Legrand asks Rhodabell in the video. The fifth-grader starts wiggling her feet in excitement as it sinks in, and she leaps into her new mom's arms.

"For real?" she asks.

"For real. For real. For real!" Legrand says.

On Thursday, Rhodabell played with her new cousins in the yard at Darlene's sister's house in Randallstown. The children hopped back and forth between swings, a climbing frame and a trampoline. Inside, a giant turkey was roasting in the oven, to be served up later with ribs, meatballs, lamb chops, greens, sauerkraut and the family's special apple Betty.

Some three dozen people were expected to cram around tables, and Raven, a lively Yorkshire terrier, would be down below seeing what comes her way. They celebrate the kind of Thanksgiving where nothing is quite on schedule.

National Adoption Day is held to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children across the country who are in foster care and in need of new parents. Erika Slater, an attorney who organizes a mass-adoption event in Baltimore to mark the day, said 24 children were adopted this year. Another 150 in Baltimore are still waiting to find families.

"It's not just the cute little 6-month-old that's being adopted," Slater said. "We had two 17-year-olds this year."

It was Legrand's sister who first suggested she think about becoming a foster mom. Her kids are grown, she was divorced, and she was feeling lonely at home. She signed up and gained a reputation in the system as a bit of a problem solver who was good with difficult kids. And that's how Rhodabell came into her life in 2012.

Rhodabell had behavior problems, and for a while Legrand was getting a call at work from school almost every day about some issue or another.

"Of all my foster kids, she was my challenge," Legrand said. "She's come a long way."

As the two sat on a couch poring over photo albums Thursday, Legrand explained they were mementos she had assembled over the years, never knowing whether she would have to give Rhodabell up.

Rhodabell — or Bell, as the family calls her — had bounced between Legrand and another woman who had taken custody of her as a baby. Darlene never intended to adopt any of her foster children when she started out eight years ago, but decided she had to make the leap for Rhodabell's sake.

And now, Legrand is thinking of adopting again so Rhodabell can grow up with a sister.

"I told her she wasn't going to be passed around no more, this is going to be her forever home," she said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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