Members of the Rough Riders charity and service organization came to Adoption Day at the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in New Port Richey to give teddy bears to the 17 children adopted into 11 families on Nov. 7.

Eleven families legally adopted 17 children and the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court held a celebration for them at Pasco County’s 12th Annual Adoption Day at the courthouse Nov. 7. All of the children were adopted by their foster parents.

Erica Riggins, public information officer for the city of St. Petersburg, a former Bay News 9 anchor and the parent of three boys she adopted from foster care, emceed the event. It included talks by retired Pasco County Judge Paul Firmani, who was stepping in for a colleague who couldn’t attend; Pinellas-Pasco Circuit judges Lauralee Westin and James Stearns; Jenn Petion, president and chief executive officer of Family Support Services; and Julio and Jashira Rodriguez, who already adopted two children and later in the day adopted four siblings.

“Adoptions are the very favorite part of my job,” said Westin. She praised the Heart Gallery, a program that connects foster children with potential adoptive families; the guardians ad litem, who represent the interests of children in foster care; and the adoption lawyers (“such amazing professionals”) involved in the process of placing children in permanent homes.

“You may not have a cape; you may not have a big S, but you are superheroes as far as we’re concerned,” Firmani told the adoptive parents in the courtroom. “These children are about to become part of a new family, and we embrace it. It’s like a new birthday for these children.”

He noted that nationwide, there are more than 114,000 children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their families.

“We need so many more people to bring children into their lives,” he said.

Petion concurred. “Many more kids are waiting behind,” she said. “We want to ensure they have a day like this.”

Adding to the celebratory feel, members of the 1st U.S. Calvary Regiment of the Rough Riders showed up with gifts. A Tampa-based service organization modeled after President Theodore Roosevelt’s legendary fighters, the Rough Riders brought teddy bears — famously named after their hero — for each of the 17 children adopted that day.

Family Support Services of Pasco and Pinellas Counties provides support services for families in crisis and arranged foster care and adoption services for children who cannot be reunited with their families. For more information, visit