Grateful families gathered at dusk Tuesday around a fountain in downtown's Grand Park, and lit candles to celebrate the 100th and 101st safe surrenders of newborns in Los Angeles County.
Several children who themselves had been safely surrendered lit the candles, while their adoptive parents watched lovingly.
"She's a joy, just a delight to have around," Jill Birdwell of Long Beach said about 3-year-old Adriana, a preschooler with a big smile who was safely surrendered at a hospital emergency room in 2009.
Not far away, 7-year-old Tessa Leavitt of Thousand Oaks flashed a dimpled grin after lighting her candle. | PHOTOS
She had been safely surrendered at a fire station, and is now thriving with her adoptive family.
"They help me when I need help," Leavitt said.
Eleven years after California passed the Safe Haven Law, Los Angeles County reached the milestone of 100 babies saved when a newborn boy was safely surrendered in Torrance just before Thanksgiving.
Just hours later, another newborn was added to the total, raising the number to 101.
"While it's always difficult to celebrate a baby given up, when we think about what the alternatives and the other consequences could be, we realize how important this is for these kids," said Supervisor Don Knabe, who started the county's Safe Surrender program.
The Safe Haven Law allows parents and legal guardians to hand over an up-to-3-day-old infant with no signs of abuse or neglect to designated locations without fear of arrest of prosecution for child abandonment.
It was enacted to give mothers distraught from an unwanted pregnancy a chance to safely leave their newborns with families eager to adopt them.
At the time, there had been many news reports of dead newborns being found in Dumpsters, toilets, alleys and rail yards.
The parents and legal guardians of a safely surrendered baby have two weeks to change their minds. Otherwise, they can walk away - no questions asked.
Firefighter Ted Saref and his wife, Becky, a critical care nurse, already had a biological son and an adopted son when they decided to take in Jenna, now 4.
The girl's family had safely surrendered her at a hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. She had bleeding in her brain and, even now, requires therapy for mild cerebral palsy.
"It's been stressful, but Jenna is the most positive individual I've ever known," Becky Saref said while her husband lifted Jenna in his arms.
"Every time she's in the hospital, every time she's sick, she has a smile on her face from morning until night," Saref added. "And she loves her brothers - there are nothing better than her brothers."
Debi Faris, founder of a charity that recovers abandoned newborns from morgues and gives them a dignified burial at a cemetery called the Garden of Angels, seemed emotional during the ceremony.
She had been one of those behind the passage of the Safe Haven Law.
"I just am so grateful," Faris said, looking at the safely surrendered children sitting in the crowd with their adoring families.
"I feel nothing but pure joy that this law works, and it works so well."