Seven-year-old Anhase Martin — born in Ethiopia, where he lived most of his young life — skipped through the halls of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court on a recent Friday, a finely knit stuffed monkey toy in hand.
Martin, dressed in a suit and tie, had just completed his formal adoption process alongside his parents — Kyle and Erin Martin of Cambria.
The court staff gave him the black and white pinstriped monkey as part of an ongoing volunteer program called Project Julia, which gives gifts to newly adopted children.
For years, court volunteers have given adopted children homemade gifts — quilts, sock monkeys, teddy bears — after their adoption hearing.
Anhase was eager to join the Martins for pizza, his favorite food, along with his grandparents, Ron and Wilma Walter.
After the Martins spent four years plodding their way through the bureaucracy of an international adoption, a celebration was in order.
“This was the final step for us,” Erin Martin said. “It’s a special moment, and Anhase truly understands it. We’re very touched by the gift.”
The court’s volunteer program was started as a pleasant gesture because adoption hearings are such important events in the lives of families.
The gift program was named after retired Judge Roger Picquet’s late mother, Julia Picquet, who began crocheting blankets for adopted children about 10 years ago.
“She asked me what the children receive after their adoption. And I told her a piece of paper,” Roger Picquet said. “She wanted to crochet blankets to give away to the kids and said, ‘What do you think?’ ”
Julia Picquet, who died in 2008, began watching adoption proceedings and offered the gifts as an emotional touchstone. The gifts also included Beanie Babies for older children.
Now volunteers regularly make gifts to give to children at the Friday morning hearings in Judge Dodie Harman’s courtroom.
Court officials are looking for more volunteers because sometimes they don’t have enough gifts to give.
The court hears about eight adoption cases each month.
The children range from infants to 17-year-olds.
“We prefer something homemade — a blanket or a teddy bear — because those are the kinds of things they can hold onto forever,” said Sara St. Cyr, a clerk in Harman’s court.
At the Martins’ hearing, before Judge Linda Hurst, who was filling in for Harman, Erin, Kyle and Anhase each formally expressed their desire to complete the adoption and begin their new life together.
Erin Martin, a winery manager, said she and Kyle Martin, a Grizzly Youth Academy instructor, wanted to adopt internationally even before they met each other.
Anhase has already started first grade and speaks English only five months after moving into his parents’ Cambria home. They already had completed the federal adoption process, which is separate from the state process, when they started caring for him in May.
St. Cyr, who was adopted, said the hearings she now observes as a clerk are some of the more cheerful moments at the courthouse, where most cases deal with disputes, criminal allegations or personal hardships. Adoptions such as Anhase’s make her tear up.
“You look at them, and it reminds you that you are so special, that somebody loved you enough to pick you,” St. Cyr said. “I would hope that us giving those kinds of gifts tells them that your circumstances are special and to never forget it.”