Samuel, 2, might not be alive today if it were not for the family who officially adopted him Saturday morning.

Robin Krueger, attorney for the Fredericksburg City Department of Social Services, said the toddler was in bad shape when he first came to his forever family—who asked that their last name not be used to protect the boy’s privacy—582 days ago.

“It’s a life or death situation for some of these kids,” Krueger said.

But on Saturday, Samuel snuggled contentedly in his mom’s arms as Circuit Court Judge Sarah Deneke signed the paperwork finalizing his adoption at Fredericksburg City’s 13th annual National Adoption Day celebration.

The event celebrated the 21 adoptions that have been finalized in the city of Fredericksburg since last November, as well as four, including Samuel’s, that were finalized Saturday morning.

For all of the children who finally joined forever families on Saturday, the road to permanency has been long, Krueger said.

They’ve waited at least a year—almost two in the case of Nickolas Sevigny, 8—to be able to get dressed up and spin around in a cushy office chair in a courtroom while smiling Judge Deneke signed off on their adoptions and Judge Joseph Vance, chief judge of the city’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, joked with their parents.

“This is truly one of the few happy days that as a circuit court judge, I get to do,” Deneke said.

Krueger said the atmosphere in the social services department has been “like Christmas” for the past week.

“All those hundreds of days, we’ve been there, fighting for [these children] and making sure their voices are heard,” she said. “This is the happiest part. All week, there’s been a buzz around the office.”

National Adoption Day is held annually on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It was established in 2000 by a coalition of groups, including the Children’s Action Network and the Alliance for Children’s Rights, to raise awareness of children in foster care and celebrate families who adopt them.

Courtrooms in 400 cities across the country open on Saturday to host adoption ceremonies, according to the event’s website, and 75,000 children from foster care have had their adoptions finalized on National Adoption Day since its inception.

In addition to Samuel and Nickolas, Fredericksburg City finalized the adoptions of Naomi and Isaac Mersiovsky, ages 7 months and 2 years; and Noah White, 4.

Following the courtroom ceremony, the families were taken for a short trolley ride around Fredericksburg and then celebrated with pizza, cake and a magician at Fredericksburg Baptist Church.

All four children adopted Saturday joined families with at least one sibling who had also been adopted.

“I looked up ‘adoption’ today, because sometimes you just have to do that,” Vance said. “The definition is, ‘To choose to make something your own.’ ”

“These families have chosen to adopt the children of this community,” he continued. “They have chosen to make these children their own.”

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