One special day in August is a time for celebration in the Brossoie household in Trenton.
Each year, Nicole Brossoie hosts a party, complete with cake and presents, to mark the anniversary of the day her son Julien, now 3, officially became part of her life.
While it might sound like the typical birthday celebration, the guests are there to celebrate Julien's adoption.
Although Julien is still too young to fully understand what it means to be adopted, Brossoie believes that celebrating his "adoption day" helps to show him he is an important part of her life. "Kids need to know they are special," she explained.
Brossoie, who is single, first met Julien in April 2004 when she agreed to serve as his foster mother through the Angel's Wings program in Trenton. Angel's Wings, which provides emergency shelter and foster care for infants to children as old as 11, operates under the auspices of Anchor House Inc.
Angel's Wings was established by a group of volunteers from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Hamilton in 1999 and became a part of Anchor House programming in 2004, said Brian Rottkamp, executive director of Anchor House. Anchor House offers shelter and outreach programs to children, from infants up to 21 years of age, who are homeless, abused or have run away from home.
"Angel's Wings was a small program that needed some support," Rottkamp said. "The mission of Angel's Wings fit the mission of Anchor House pretty well, as far sheltering kids and just providing the services that go with that."
Brossoie, who works as a lobbyist, first learned about Angel's Wings when she accompanied Sen. Joseph Vitale (D) on a tour through the shelter, located within St. Francis Medical Center, in August 2003.
"I think we were both really overwhelmed by the organization itself and all that they do for children and foster families," Brossoie said. Soon after the tour, Brossoie reached out to Angel's Wings to express interest in becoming a volunteer and foster parent.
"I had reached a point in my life and my career when I wanted to give back by doing charitable work," Brossoie said. "At the time, I was 33. I was a foster child and adopted from the system when I was 2 1/2. I sort of (understood) the process."
"When I was growing up, there were obviously other children that were adopted, but it wasn't something that was really talked about. Adoption is very accepted now. It's not the secret it used to be."
While Brossoie believes that society has come a long way in changing its attitude towards adoption, she noticed that there still seems to be a lack of products geared to promoting adoption when she began shopping for Julien's first adoption day party.
To fill that void, Brossoie and her friend, Heather Kearns Latini of Ewing, launched a Web site (www.theadoptshop.com), which offers 12 different lines of products geared toward promoting adoption. Items range from T-shirts to bumper stickers.
"The goal was to provide products for foster or adoptive families who wanted to advocate their work for children or with children," Brossoie said.
"She's a strong advocate for foster parents' and children's rights," Rottkamp said. "She's one of the people who really lives the mission of what Angel's Wings and Anchor House is about."
Since March 2004, Brossoie has been a member of the Anchor House board of directors and is now involved in the organization's restructuring.
According to Rottkamp, the child advocacy group Children's Rights recently sued several states, including New Jersey, and "starting July 1, no child under 12 can be placed in a shelter in the state of New Jersey."
In response, Angel's Wings is transitioning to a new model and will work to place all children in foster homes, he said. Last year, Angel's Wings provided shelter for about 135 children.
"We all share a commitment to children at Angel's Wings and the mission for caring for them and helping foster families. To that end, we have to come up with some new and innovative ideas on how we are going to continue that mission without closing down," Brossoie added.
To aid in their mission, Rottkamp said Angel's Wings plans to host its fourth annual fundraising gala March 10 at the Trenton Marriott at Lafayette Yard from 6 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person and there will be live entertainment, dinner and a silent auction.
Organizers hope to raise $75,000, Rottkamp said, adding, "We are going to need all the support we can get."
For more information on Anchor House or Angel's Wings or to volunteer, call (609) 392-6100 or visit (www.anchorhousenj.org).