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Photos in search of families Exhibition features area foster children eager to put themselves in the picture through adoption

While 4,000 foster children in this state are waiting for adoption, New Yorkers go abroad to adopt 23,000 babies each year.

Erie County has 1,700 of those forgotten foster children.

Thursday, photographs of 50 of those children were the focus of attention in the Burchfield-Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College, during the opening reception for "Heart Gallery: Framing Faces, Finding Families." The exhibit created by the Coalition of Adoption & Foster Family Agencies will run through Feb. 28.

Brandy Welch, 15, who is on the honor roll at East High School, stood next to her photo, taken by Brittany Carr in the rose garden of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

"She took it real good," said Brandy, who wants to become a doctor. "I got a whole bunch of copies." She said her younger sister is being adopted from foster care, but they still will be able to keep in touch here in Buffalo.

The corridor of the art center was crawling with people of all ages, taking long, thoughtful looks at the photos and reading the accompanying text. Erin, 15, who was photographed by Jim Bush, demonstrated his reliability by working at a community center for 18 months. His dream is to play in the National Football League.

Briana, 13, captured on film by Eric Frick, collects everything pertaining to the cartoon character Tweety Bird. She wants to become a lawyer.

Bruce Fox photographed Chris, 17, reading a book, "Stars and Planets," in bed. Chris volunteers at charity fund-raisers but tries to avoid crowds. He takes part in an equestrian program but hasn't climbed up onto a horse yet.

A puppy licked the face of Jennifer, 13, in Cheryl Gorski's photo. An upbeat, bubbly girl, Jennifer wants to be a teacher.

Nancy Parisi snapped Diamond, 13, tall and bespectacled and enamored of basketball. Diamond sets goals, including good marks, and works hard to achieve them.

Mike Groll captured two sisters, Latoya, 13, who loves cats and the color purple, and Samone, 14, who dances and skates and wants to be a lawyer. The sisters attend a praise and worship group at their church.

While the crowd listened to the music of Steel Pan Alley and munched on pastries prepared by Baker Victory Services, Justice Sharon S. Townsend, administrative judge of the 8th Judicial District, reviewed the culmination of years of work to find permanent homes for foster children.

"Just to look into these bright, smiling faces touches the heart," she said. "These pictures speak to you, through their eyes and smiles."

Robert Spaner, chief executive officer of the Center for Development of Human Services, said the crisis of the American family means that "more and more children will be removed from their homes" and "we will need more adoptive families and foster care families."

Maryjane Link, adoption specialist with the state Office of Children & Family Services, said the photo exhibit is intended not only to find homes for these children but to draw public attention to all waiting children.

Judy Ballafaire, chairwoman of the 25-member Coalition of Adoptive & Foster Family Agencies, said she wished to "thank the children who took the risk and trusted us with their photographs."

Then Steven Walker, 18, of North Tonawanda, stood at the podium and made a plea for the children.

"I was a foster child for six years before I was adopted and had a 'forever' family," said Steven, a junior at Amherst Christian School. His parents, Kevin and Jody Walker, stood proudly on the sidelines.

"I was a handful," Steven recalled. "I would push my new parents away when I found myself loving them, because I didn't want to get hurt again. I was so afraid to love them and then have them kick me out, so I decided to kick myself out. But they understood how my heart was broken and needed time to heal."

Steven, who wants to become a politician who will serve foster children, said prospective adoptive parents shouldn't shy away from foster children who are no longer toddlers.

"We will be your kids for the rest of our lives," he said. "I want to be 30 and calling my dad to talk about sports. I want to be 40 and tell my mom that my teenager is driving me nuts."

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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