Pat Ciarrocchi reports…

WILLINGBORO, NJ (CBS) — When you walk into the Shippy home in Willingboro, you can feel the love and peace. That’s something that eluded three sisters and their brother, as recently as late 2008.

They weren’t lost children. They were children waiting for someone to scoop them up, into safe arms. And they found that person on Christmas Eve 2008.

Audry Shippy was a 61-year-old mother and grandmother then, who had raised her own children and other people’s children too. “I love working with children,” Shippy said. “I love being around kids, I love helping them.”

Mercedes, Antoine, Tyisha and Imani needed her help. They were ten, seven and five years old respectively, with the littlest, Imani, at just nine months. The Camden County Department of Youth and Family Services had stepped in to protect the children from their birth parents. Shippy became their foster parent.

“Right away, I just fell in love with them,” Shippy said.

Adoption can be an intimidating word. The responsibilities are the same as any parent who gives birth to a child, and there needs to be a complete understanding of that.

For Audry Shippy, a widow for many years, adoption didn’t sound daunting at all. The word resonated opportunity for four children who deserved a loving home and a chance to be what ever they wanted to be, she believed.

Today, after years of paperwork and processing, Mercedes, 12; Antoine, 10; Tyisha, 8; and Imani, 4 are now Audry Shippy’s children, signed and sealed at proceedings at Camden’s Hall of Justice.

Camden County is a state leader in handling adoptions. Pat Jones, in the Surrogate’s Office that navigates the adoption’s process, says that this year, 457 adoptions have been on the books, with 258 now finalized.

“The program in Camden County is pretty extraordinary,”’ Jones said. “We know how to process, how to do all the administrative work. Agencies that do adoptions like to come to Camden County.”

And Mercedes, the oldest of the four children, is grateful for that.

“I feel excited. Being one family is good,” she says.

One family — after living with the fear of being separated from her siblings and put in different foster homes, perhaps taken away by birth parents who couldn’t care for her, or even worse, strangers.

“I feel at peace for them,” said Shippy. She opens her arms wide to bring all four children close for a family hug.

“I love her a lot,” said Mercedes, sitting close to her adoptive mom. “She’s always there for me.”

It shouldn’t sound so extraordinary. Isn’t that what every child should feel?

Reported by Pat Ciarrocchi, CBS3

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