With a big extended-family party eager to celebrate his long-awaited official adoption last month, 14-year-old Kason Sheffield had a chance for a bonus holiday season.
He could have asked for the PlayStation 4, Star Wars Battlefront II or perhaps the new Madden NFL 18 game.
Instead, he helped his parents write invitations that specified no gifts for him — but instead, a new toy for a child still in foster care.
“Our family and friends have been there with us all through this process,” said Jen Bergin, who with her husband, Tim, officially became Kason’s parents in November after raising him as their foster son for years. “Kason wanted to ask them to bring something for children who are still in foster care.”
Kason, a basketball fan who aspires to be a coach in a public school system someday, said the decision wasn’t hard.
“I’m grateful for what I have, for my parents. I want those children to be happy,” Kason said.
In an easy chair alongside the Christmas tree at his family’s Doane Street home, Kason told an interviewer that he doesn’t remember his early childhood in the foster care system. But he wanted to do something for youngsters who don’t have the security of an adoptive family.
“I know how it feels,” he said. “I was hoping I could be part of this family.”
On Friday he went to a holiday party run by the New Britain office of the state Department of Children and Families. Foster children from central Connecticut received gifts -- including 25 toys that guests brought to Kason’s adoption celebration.
Kason, one of six siblings who went into foster care more than a decade ago, was assigned at first to a group home. He was about kindergarten age when Tim Bergin’s mother took him in as a foster child, and a couple of years later the Bergins brought him into their home.
“Tim’s family has a background in social work, and two years after Kason came to live with Tim’s mother, we decided we wanted to bring Kason here with the intention to adopt,” Jen Bergin said. “We thought it may take a year. Four years and five months later, it happened.”
As the adoption process dragged on year after year, Kason became more and more a full yet unofficial member of the family. The Bergins worked with his teachers, coordinated his summer activities and brought him to every gathering of their large extended families.
“In middle school he was more into music and the arts, and he has some interest in science and math from STEM,” Tim Bergin said. “But it’s pretty sports-oriented right now; he was playing indoor soccer and made the school varsity soccer team as a freshman.”
The adoption process took vastly longer than the Bergins or Kason expected, but this fall they got the letter advising that it would finally go through.
“The adoption became formal on Nov. 17, National Adoption Day. I think there were 74 kids around here adopted that same day,” Jen Bergin said.
The next day, the Bergins had several dozen relatives and friends join them to celebrate. Along with them came new Nerf footballs, toy cars, a Barbie, a Fisher-Price “Go to Pro” batting tee for tykes, and a few dozen other toys for all ages.
“I’d like the kids in foster care to have joy,” Kason said. “Just that would make me happy.”
Kason, who attends the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy magnet school in Hartford, isn’t new to helping others, Jen Bergin said.
“He has a soft spot. There’s a woman — maybe homeless — who walks up and down the block collecting cans. He always goes out with cans he’s saved for her,” she said.
“Kason is in a family of social workers and educators and public servants, and we include the kids in everything we do,” said Karen Bergin of Bolton, who is Tim Bergin’s mother and Kason’s grandmother.
“Kason didn’t do this for recognition, but he hit a home run. And we like to say that other people can do the same thing: We’re pretty typical, and other children can do the same kind of thing,” she said.
Tim Bergin agreed. “Our entire extended family tries to do things for others in the community,” he said. “Public service, being generous in our church — that’s all important to us.”