Roman Balassaitis has found his forever home.
The then-17-year-old was just about to age out of the Florida foster system with no place to go, when a miracle came his way — in the form of Renee and Brad Balassaitis.
The Clay County couple decided to adopt the hopeful teen earlier this month — just one day before Roman’s 18th birthday.
“We were all sobbing,” Renee, 47, emotionally told TODAY.com about officially welcome her new son into her house. “All Roman has ever wanted was to find his forever family.”
“Just in the nick of time,” Brad chimed in.
Roman has been bounced around between 19 different homes since entering the system at the age of 11.
“I was sweating bad. My heart was beating. I was very happy,” Roman gushed to First Coast News about his current family. “It means I have someone to go to. It means if I need someone to talk to, I have people to talk to now.”
Brad and Renee are also parents to children Tom, 28, Chrissy, 26, Austin, 22, Jared, 22, Sammy, 20, Halle, 18, and Tatiana, 17. Jared and Halle are the pair’s biological children, the rest are adopted. Another daughter, Rosie, died last year.
The couple felt called by God to help out and be foster parents, they said. The family began housing kiddies in 2008 and called it the “most rewarding” thing.
Brad explained to the NBC morning show that Roman’s journey to becoming a member of the family began when the then 12-year-old came into their lives, saying with the family for nine months.
“But he wasn’t ready to be part of a family,” he explained. “He was driven by a fear of abandonment. Ironically, he turned around and acted in ways that pushed people away.”
Renee added that they were “heartbroken when he left” and her family “felt this special connection with Roman. I felt like I lost my future son.”
Years after Roman departed, he got in touch with Halle on social media. Renee invited him over for dinner and “and the rest is history,” according to Brad.
“Ever since adoption day, Roman has been walking lighter,” Renee joyfully said. “It’s like a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders and you can see it in the way he moves. He’s incredibly relieved.”
“And so are we,” she said.
Despite the heartwarming story having a happy ending, Roman does face certain challenges as he adjusts to his new life.
The high school junior has trouble with reading and is behind in his coursework. “He also has a hard time expressing his feelings, but that’s to be expected. He always had to live with his guard up,” Renee revealed.
But he’s getting to relish in those precious childhood moments that he was robbed of when he was younger. He loves to play games like Chutes and Ladders and even “gets excited when he sees a swing set.”
Cases like Roman’s are surprisingly common in the United States — and relatively few teens can look forward to a similar happy ending.
Florida adoption attorney Jeanne T. Tate told Today how the “clock is ticking” for older orphans.
“Kids like Roman have experienced a lot of trauma and instability, and not being adopted is the final nail in the coffin,” she said. “There’s no where for them to go, so they end up in prison or on the streets. They turn 18 and it’s like, ‘Good luck.’”
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