Editor's note: Final in a weeklong series
By RICHARD DYMOND
MANATEE -- Each year in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties combined, 150 to 200 children lose their mothers and fathers because their parental rights are terminated.
These children are the innocent victims of broken families from domestic violence, economic pressures, addictions and other issues. It takes special families to take in those children who have experienced repeated trauma. But every year, as
many as 125 are adopted.
So says Andrea Mertyris, a client and community relations specialist with the Safe Children Coalition of Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties, which attempts to find adopted homes for these children.
The children range in age from newborns to age 18 and 18 to 23. Many of the older children do not want to be adopted, Mertyris added.
"Knowing where our children come from, it takes patience for a family to hang in there to see the successes," Mertyris said. "Literally having someone there every day when they get up is a big change for these kids."
Manatee County residents Danny Jones and his wife, Ann Marie, have adopted Owen, Lilly and Emma through Safe Children Coalition of Manatee.
This alone would seem to be a worthy reason the Bradenton Marauders selected Jones as one of their eight All-Stars Among Us, a group which will be honored Saturday for their impact to the local community at the 2014 Florida State League All-Star game at McKechnie Field.
The Joneses adopted three at-risk children and have sponsored a foster care walkathon for three years to raise funds to help other parents of Safe Coalition kids.
"I met Danny three years ago when he planned our first foster care awareness walkathon in Manatee County," Mertyris said last week. "Danny is a foster and adoptive parent for us. He was already involved in our organization. He just one day came up with an idea to do a walkathon."
Money raised at the walkathon at G.T. Bray park goes to help foster families with things they may need at their homes.
"It's awesome," Mertyris said. "It keeps growing every year. In the first year we had 150 people walk, and this past year, on May 3, we had 285."
The Joneses are also deeply involved in Bridge a Life.
"Our mission is to do what it takes to ensure abused, abandoned, neglected or otherwise orphaned children thrive in Christ-centered families," reads Danny Jones' website. He will be presented a check from the Marauders for $500 for himself and $500 for the charity of his choice, which is Bridge a Life.
Danny and Ann Marie are on the Bridge a Life board of directors.
Partnering with local churches, including Bayside Community on State Road 64, Bridge a Life supports adoptive parents.
"Bridge a Life has several programs that are amazing, like 'Hammer Time,' which put an addition on a home so a family could adopt a sibling, and 'Stew Crew,' which sends food to a home which has just gotten a child, so the parents can concentrate on their new family member," Mertyris said. "Danny is so passionate about this work," Mertyris added. "He and Ann Marie also do events at their church to get other parents interested in adopting our kids. And it has worked. We have many from Bridge a Life in the process of adopting children who need safe and secure homes."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.