When parents Charles Hill and Carmen Jackson expanded their family with the adoption of a niece, nephew and a teenager, the first thing they had to do was sell their Laurel home and move to a larger one in West Baltimore.
"We also had to start buying more food and joined Costco," the 41-year-old Hill, who is a motor pool agent for the Government Printing Office in Washington, said with a hearty laugh. "We love kids, and it was certainly the right thing to do."
Jackson, who is employed as a purchasing agent at the printing office where her husband works, said between broad smiles, "It worked out but it wasn't always easy. We had a lot of different personalities to match up."
They have a son, Dorian Augins, 13, and a daughter, Maia Hill, 8. They adopted a nephew, Jimmy Hill, 11, and his sister, Makayla Hill, 10. However, there was one more to come: Donkira, who has taken the name Hill.
The former Howard County couple was honored as an outstanding adoptive family by the Maryland Department of Human Resources Saturday at the 14th Annual Statewide Adoption Celebration in Baltimore's historic 1800-vintage Mansion House at the Maryland Zoo.
November is National Adoption Month.
Families representing Baltimore and each of Maryland's 23 counties qualified as outstanding by adopting more than one child or a special needs child. Twenty-one families participated Saturday.
Michael and Wendy Lawton, who just completed their fifth adoption, came all the way from Allegany County, while Michael and Kimberly Strong, who had adopted a special needs child, Lilly, drove up from Worcester County.
Little girls dressed in pretty frocks with ribbons in their hair, boys with slicked-down hair and lots of Saturday-morning energy, and toddlers in strollers sat with their adoptive families, siblings and caseworkers at luncheon tables, covered with snowy linen, shiny silver and glasses, that spanned the wide glass-enclosed veranda.
They were trying to wait patiently for the moment when the ceremony would commence and they would be all be called forward along with their caseworkers to be presented a certificate by Carnitra White, who is executive director of the Maryland Social Services Administration.
Tears, smiles and hugs were in evidence as families reveled in their newly expanded numbers.
White underscored the importance of the Social Services Administration's four-year-old Place Matters initiative.
"Nothing matters more to a child than having a place to call home, and every child desires to grow up in a family," she said. "Our adoptive families have opened up both their hearts and homes to children, and now it's time to celebrate what they have done."
During the past fiscal year, 738 children were adopted in the state, White said.
"While this is certainly wonderful, there are still children who need permanent homes," she said.
Adopting a child and resolving all legal matters can take upward of two years — "providing there are no bumps in the road," she said.
Donkira Hill was 17 when she first visited the Hill-Jackson home, and instantly decided this was the family she wanted to live with.
"My face hurt from smiling so much," she said.
Her legal adoption was completed five days before she celebrated her 18th birthday.
"Today's ceremony truly means a lot to me," said Hill, a Hammond High School graduate now studying nursing at Howard Community College.
Ellen Jackson, Carmen's mother, assists her daughter and son-in-law with the children.
"I wasn't ready but then I soon got ready," the former University of Maryland Medical Center laboratory assistant said with a laugh. "They all have different personalities but are good kids. They certainly keep me on my toes and moving."
After lunch, the happy throngs finished off their special day with a visit to the zoo on a sun-splashed autumn afternoon.