Southern Nevadans ready to rally behind courageous girl's adoption wish


It's not easy to motivate Las Vegans.

Maybe it's the fact so many of us come from so many parts of the map and have little in common. Perhaps we're experiencing sensory overload from the gaudy glow of the "Entertainment Capital of the World."

Hey, just getting through the day overwhelms most people and leaves little time to consider someone else's problems.

But one courageous girl's story has managed to lift the fog of cynicism and indifference that commonly rings the valley. Las Vegans are ready to rally behind 15-year-old Brittney Bergeron.

Bergeron's request to be adopted by her foster parents may have fallen on deaf ears in the legal system, but the people are hearing her call loud and clear.

Her plea was rejected at the District Court level and is on appeal at the Nevada Supreme Court, which is scheduled to rule on the matter later this year.

Recent columns on Bergeron's battle have mobilized a small army of supporters for the girl paralyzed in a vicious knife attack in 2003 that killed her 3-year-old sister. Her mother, Tamara Schmidt, was convicted of felony child neglect and is in prison. While her birth mother is away, Brittney has thrived under the care of foster parents Judy and Bill Himel.

If the many Southern Nevadans I'm hearing from had their way, the adoption would take place immediately. Cynical Southern Nevadans are ready to rally behind Brittney.

"I am amazed at her positive attitude in light of what has occurred in her young life," says 25-year Las Vegas resident Bill Wells, whose 14-year-old son was also moved by Bergeron's story. "She truly is an inspiration to not only our younger people, but to adults as well."

Brittney's struggle has been a reminder to locals of the need for reform in Nevada's child welfare and foster care structure.

"How our system can not protect Brittney (and the children who die here all the time) is beyond me," Lorelle Ellis says.

"These foster parents love Brittney and have given her a chance and have raised her to be an outstanding student and person; that for her not to be able to be adopted by the Himels is just a terrible tragedy. We know her mom's a loser and, though she loves her, is a mess. After all, that's why she's in jail, no? Anyway, how can we change those laws?"

There's no end of tragedy in the world, but locals are taking this injustice personally.

"I know from firsthand experience: A mother who truly loves a child will make a decision in the child's best interests," Shawna Harris says. "I am deeply disturbed by Schmidt's stubborn refusal to grant her daughter's wish.

"I am a part of the 'collective soul' in this community, and as such am requesting your help: What can I/we do? What can be done to help Brittney?"

Although it's in the state Supreme Court's hands, I think it's important that the seekers of justice know this case is of interest to the community.

Nevada has a horrible reputation when it comes to child welfare, but perhaps the best way to change that reputation is by placing the interests of the child first.

In this case, it's an easy call.

Ronald J. Manske writes, "It really hit home when she spoke about wanting to stay with her foster parents, who have helped her to get a new outlook on life. Is there anywhere we can write the District Court to impress our opinion in this case?"

Courts weigh facts, not a volume of mail. But it's interesting to note how many people who have contacted me to say they're ready to call or write the courts to ensure Bergeron's adoption wish is granted.

No matter where we come from or how long we've been here, we're a community.

"Of all the stories written about the horrors of child abuse and neglect, this is one that I have thought about even now," Kim Gallo says. "I have often thought, 'I wonder how she's doing?' as I drive on the freeway or dust my furniture. ... I hope she continues to thrive, and I hope she gets her wish to be adopted."

In this diverse community, it's a commonly shared hope.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.

 

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