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When Adam was 3 years old, his mother took his older brother and sister and "left for good."

Now 13, he thinks it's time he gets a family of his own. One that will "be there when I need them, care for me and love me like their own kid. One that won't leave."Adam was one of about 50 children at a picnic in Sugarhouse Park Friday night. The Division of Child and Family Services and the Adoption Exchange planned the gigantic barbecue as a low-key way for children waiting for adoption to meet the families who might be interested.

The response was overwhelming, according to Roland Oliver, adoption supervisor in the division. It was the first time the division had done an informal party to let adults and children who might someday form families look at each other and, perhaps, fall a little in love. The division expected about 150 adults and got 400. Some came from as far away as Moab.

Approximately 165 children in state custody are available for adoption or soon will be. Most are considered "special needs" because they are older (usually age 3 to 14), disabled, part of a group of siblings who hope to be adopted together or ethnic.

The scene resembled a dance, with people wandering around observing each other unobtrusively at first. But at this party, there were no wallflowers. And everyone seemed to have a ball.

Malena, 11, wanted her family to stay together. It didn't happen. Now she's hoping for a "nice, nice family that will let me get my ears pierced. My foster family won't let me until I'm 12."

She loves board games and card games and watching television. She's excited about a planned trip to Disneyland. And she's afraid of being the only child in a family, which would be "very lonely."

She likes reading best, although she wryly admits she's not wild about school - except recess and lunch and her report card, which was "very nice."

As blonde, hazel-eyed Malena talked, Jae Smith listened quietly and smiled. She and her husband, Mike, and their two biological children have been approved already to adopt. They would like to adopt three siblings younger than 10.

"We can't have more," she said. "And we always wanted five or six. We're good parents and have lots of love to give. I think these kids need that."

Jackie Senczyszyn, 7, is looking for a new little sister. Her parents, Michael and Diane, are pros at adoption. They've done it three times. Diane Senczyszyn was reared as an only child because her siblings were much older. She, too, has always wanted a large family.

"These children are looking for a family. I think that's really healthy," she said. "Family is important. If you don't have one, you get one."

Verna Avarell was 40 when she married. Her husband has children from a previous marriage, but "having them three or four times a week isn't enough. We love children."

In December, she saw a television interview with a little boy in foster care. He was sad because a woman had duped Utahns by pretending to be an abandoned boy. It makes it hard for the kids who are in trouble, he said.

Avarell, already toying with the idea of adoption, was touched. And her husband, Kory, liked the idea so much he suggested that they adopt two children. That brought them to the picnic.

Is there anything else people should know? a reporter asks Adam. "Just that if people respect me, I respect them. And I like camping and hiking and bike riding."

If you're available, so's he.

For information about adopting special needs children, call 538-4663 (HOME).