By Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — Something was clearly different Saturday at Alameda County’s Wiley Manuel Courthouse.

Usually somber, the Washington Street building was bedecked with brightly colored balloons. Teddy bears lined a corridor’s windowsill and packed every surface at the front of a courtroom. Photos were being taken — not mugshots, but portraits before a pastel backdrop. And everyone was smiling.

Alameda County’s 11th Annual Adoption Day, part of a national celebration, saw 37 families made whole and 41 children’s lives changed forever.

For Nicole and Jim Ludwig, of Danville, it was the end of a two-and-a-half year journey. They had begun taking classes to become eligible to adopt, and then the process slowed down due to state and county budget cuts.

That’s when a neighbor told them about Nadia. It turned out the Ludwigs knew Nadia’s great-aunt and great-uncle. They started looking into her situation, and after some research, “we wanted to adopt her before we even met her,” said Nicole, 40.

Nadia moved in with them 15 months ago, but they were not sure until April that the legal hurdles to adoption had been cleared. “For eight months, she’s living in our home and on any given day she could’ve been pulled,” said Jim, 50.

“But from the first day she was there, we couldn’t love her any differently,” Nicole added.

Nadia, now 6, called them “Mom” and “Dad” within a few months, although “Dad” took a bit longer because she had never had one before.

“That was a big day for me,” Jim said.

Over the 11 years that Alameda County has commemorated National Adoption Day, more than 600 families have been united and more than 750 children have found homes. Still, more than 1,600 kids remain in the county’s foster-care system — among more than 114,000 nationwide — hoping and waiting to find permanent families.

Alameda County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Trina Thompson praised all the judicial officers and court workers, social service agency workers, private adoption agencies and others who cooperate to make days like this happen. They are the “giraffe society,” she said, “those who stick out their necks for children every day.”

Corinne Flores, accompanied by her husband, Tony, 52, and their son, Derek, 22, spoke about how they had finalized their adoption of Christona few weeks ago, just shy of his 18th birthday. Though he is technically not a child anymore, he is their child, she said: “We feel that he is with us forever, we’re here to be the family and support that every child deserves.”

And like any parents with teenagers, “there have been some tough times, some bumps in the road … and this was something he couldn’t do with us today,” she said, indicating his absence. “But we’ll work on it together.”

Upstairs, a short while later, Gerald and Lynnette Linnen of Hayward grinned as Judge David Krashna signed the final papers for their adoption of Jack Tango Linnen, not quite 2 years old.

They had not planned to be parents again; at 50, they have seven kids between them plus four grandchildren. But Lynnette’s former foster daughter was the victim of a crime and delivered Jack at only 23 weeks. Doctors did not expect him to survive, and they sat with him every day in the hospital mainly so that he would not die alone.

One day Jack reached up and grabbed Gerald’s finger. Lynnette said Saturday they are “very grateful, very fortunate and very blessed.”

“Jack is truly a miracle and I was blessed that I was able to be a part of his life from the beginning,” she said. “He’ll always have family. He can’t be taken away.