Every week for 17 years, Chrys Peterson was a champion for the youngest members of our community, who didn't have a family to call their own.
During her Home for Keeps series, Chrys introduced us to hundreds of kids looking for their forever families. During that time, Lucas County Children's Services was involved in 2,400 adoptions.
Chrys' tireless work as an advocate was no doubt in part responsible for some of those.
One family was completely changed thanks to Chrys, and they never had the opportunity to thank her until now.
Jennifer was a soft-spoken 10-year-old who hated vegetables and loved art. She was one of the more than 800 children Chrys met during her Home for Keeps series. The two spent an afternoon together at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Sixteen years later, we found several generations of the Thomas family gathered around a kitchen table in south Toledo. Right in the middle, we found Jennifer.
Vicki and Frank Thomas had two biological children, but just out of high school and about to leave home, when they saw Jennifer and Chrys on the news.
"We were not looking to adopt at all," they said.
"Their family was complete, their children were older," Jennifer explained.
But there was something about Jennifer.
"My name was Jennifer, and they already had two children with J names, so I fit in in that way," she said.
And it was something she said. When Chrys asked Jennifer about a piece in the museum, Jennifer said it didn't seem like art, but maybe it was there because it had to do with a famous person. "Maybe someone like George Bush touched it," she had said.
"And they were like, ‘She knows who George Bush is. She's ours,'" Jennifer Mercurio explained.
About six months later, the adoption process was complete.
"Our family wouldn't be complete without her," said Vicki. "We thought we were complete at the time, and we were making plans, we had no idea.
Jennifer is now 26 years old and the mother of three young children of her own.
"Probably the thing that makes me proudest is watching her be a mom," said Frank. "She just loves her kids."
Jennifer hasn't spoken to Chrys since that day in 1998, but she is very much aware of the difference one woman made in her life.
"Her interaction with me is the reason my parents were drawn to me when they weren't even looking to adopt anyone," she said. "There are people that they come into your life and there's just one moment, and it's one moment in their life, but they change your whole life."
So now, as Chrys gets ready to move onto the next chapter of her life, the Thomas family wants to thank her for how she helped change theirs.
"I would definitely say thank you," Vicki said. "Your life has made a difference in other people's lives. Maybe you aren't aware of it, but you made a difference."
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