GALVESTON

In a year with so much bad news, Manny Rodriguez had something to smile about Tuesday.

Standing in a Galveston County courtroom, Manny told a judge he understood he was starting a new chapter in his life and was sure he was making the right the decision.

With that, Manny, 12, turned and hugged his new mother and father. After years in the Texas foster care system, he was officially adopted.

Officially, National Adoption Day is observed Nov. 21.

In a normal year, the Saturday before Thanksgiving would be a day when thousands of families across the country celebrated their final adoption proceedings and the start of their lives as families.

But this year, with some courtrooms closed and others taking strict COVID-19 precautions, the official celebration was canceled and families were given the chance to attend a smaller, more personal event in the middle of a weekday.

It was an offer the Rodriguez family happily accepted.

“It’s a special day,” said Elizabeth Vargas, Manny’s mother. “I wouldn’t have wanted to just get it done online.”

Vargas, and her husband, Tadeo Rodriguez, met Manny last year. He moved into the couple’s Houston home in April, just as much of the country was shut down in attempt to control the coronavirus.

The virus has meant a lot of quality time at home together.

“It was a little difficult because we couldn’t go out and take him to normal places and go have fun and stuff,” Tadeo Rodriguez said. “We’ve spent a lot of time at home with him.”

Adoption Day has similarly been changed by the virus.

In Galveston County, the day would come with a party at the county courthouse, featuring, among other things, gifts from Santa Claus.

Because of COVID-19, there was no big celebration this year. But the nonprofit organization that puts on adoption day, the Galveston County Adoption Day Foundation, still made an effort to make the day special for a couple of families

Two families finalized their adoptions at the county courthouse on Tuesday morning. Only a small number of people were allowed into Judge Ann Darring’s courtroom, and everyone who wasn’t a relative was required to wear face masks.

People who weren’t able to attend the hearing in person — including case workers and advocates who helped Rodriguez make it through the foster system — were able to watch the hearing through a Zoom meeting.

“We figured out a way to make this safe and yet still have the moment because the moment is when the families get together and they realize that this is actually happening, and the community celebrates it,” Darring said. “It’s like a birthday or an anniversary; it’s a very commemorative moment.”

Galveston County has held Adoption Day events for 17 years and has never canceled one, even after the island was devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008, officials said. In that time, about 300 families have finalized their adoptions at the events, officials said.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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