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Finding the missing puzzle piece

Sandra and Sunny Santiago
Sandra adopted Sunny five days before her 18th birthday.

Sandra Santiago-Zayas says that adoption was never in her plans. Until she met Sunny.

Sandra was working for the Florida Adoption Information Center when she met 16-year-old Sunny. Originally from Honduras, Sunny spoke no English and had only a third-grade education.

“It was heartbreaking to see the challenges that children like Sunny have to overcome. First, of course, the language barrier. But also the struggles they face to navigate the system and access the services that exist to help them,” Sandra said.

For almost two years, Sandra worked with Sunny, helping her to learn English, advance her education, and develop a plan for the day that she would turn 18 and age out of the foster care system. As that day was fast approaching, Sunny asked Sandra a surprising question: “Would you consider adopting me?”

“I was not expecting it, but I immediately said ‘yes’!” Sandra said. “Today we often joke that I did not adopt Sunny, but she adopted me.”

Five days before her eighteenth birthday, on January 17, 2012, Sandra adopted Sunny in a special session held by a judge to expedite the adoption process.

Today Sandra says that though adoption had not been in her plan, bringing Sunny into her family made her family—which already included a daughter and son by birth—complete. Like finding a missing puzzle piece.

“Sunny makes me proud every day. There is a tremendous amount of reward and satisfaction in giving her the opportunities that she always deserved.”