THE BIGGEST Christmas present Ebon and Janelle Walker received this year doesn't fit under the tree.
It's not a video game. It's not something put on a shelf when someone gets tired of it.
Their biggest gift is a child - an 11-year-old boy named Trevon, whom they adopted.
"We feel Tre is no different than any other child," said Ebon, 37, a football-player-sized man with a huge smile, as he sat earlier this week in the living room of the family's apartment in Maple Shade, N.J. The apartment was decked with a real Christmas tree, presents and family photos of Trevon.
"For us, to be able to bring him into our family is rewarding," Ebon said.
The new father said that Trevon, who had previously lived in foster homes, no longer has to fear not having clothes on his back. And he no longer has to fear bouncing from family to family.
He now has his "forever" home, something so many children under the care of public child-welfare agencies yearn for.
Trevon, a fifth-grader at Steinhauer Elementary School, covered his face with a tan sofa pillow when asked by a visitor what he likes about being adopted.
"I don't have to worry about being in DYFS anymore," he said quietly, referring to New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services, the child-welfare agency within the state's Department of Children and Families.
What was difficult about changing families as a foster kid, he said, was "seeing new families, and the family you're with, you stay with them a long time and you miss them, that's all," he said, before quickly burying his face behind his hands.
Ebon is a caseworker at DYFS. Janelle, 32, works as a secretary at Family Service, a nonprofit agency that provides behavioral-health and social services to people in need.
The Walkers have no biological children. Janelle said that when she got married, at 24, she was suffering from congestive heart failure, and pregnancy could have stressed her heart and circulatory system.
"We just figured it's less risk and there's so many children out there to be adopted, so we thought, 'Why not?' " Janelle said.
They went to a "match" party hosted by the National Adoption Center at the Laurel Lanes bowling alley, in Maple Shade, in June 2008. There, they heard Chuck Williams, now an assistant clinical professor at Drexel University's School of Education, talk about how, when he was an older child in the foster-care system, "no one wanted to adopt him," Janelle recalled.
She said that that made them think about adopting an older child.
A DYFS worker in Trenton eventually selected Trevon for them. He had been living in a foster home in Hoboken.
Last February, Trevon came to live with the Walkers in their "pre-adoptive" home. (Since Ebon works at DYFS, he couldn't foster Trevon because it would have been a conflict of interest, but he can adopt children in the system.)
Gloria Hochman, director of communications for the Philadelphia-based National Adoption Center, knows how much children waiting to be adopted crave a "forever family."
"Whenever I talk to a child, whether a child is 6 or 16, I'd say, 'What do you want for Christmas?' " she said.
"Invariably," Hochman said, "they will not say, 'I want a Wii, a sled or a bicycle.' They will say, 'I want a family,' 'I want to wake up and see the same mom or dad every day.' Sometimes, they'll say, very sadly, 'I want a family that won't hurt me.' "
The National Adoption Center focuses on helping public child-welfare agencies and private adoption agencies in the Delaware Valley find families for kids.
"What adoptive parents always tell us is, 'The only regret I have is that I didn't adopt sooner,' " Hochman said.
The Walkers adopted Trevon Nov. 20 during a National Adoption Day celebration at a courthouse in Jersey City, where Trevon's 9-year-old brother, Devon, was adopted by his foster mother, a Jersey City resident. Janelle said that Trevon cried that day and told her not to cry. She went to the bathroom and wept.
Trevon, who has 10 siblings, still keeps in touch with Devon, whom he is expected to visit today when he and his parents are to drive to Jersey City.
Janelle said that Trevon had "just fit right in" with her and her husband. "For one, he's an Eagles fan," she said.
They painted his bedroom Eagles green.
Trevon plays football for the Maple Shade Tigers, a township team. His dad is one of the coaches. Asked if he has scored for the team (the answer is yes), Trevon instead asked his mom whether she had taken a photo of him as he was running for a touchdown.
No, Janelle replied.
Why? Because she was running alongside him, cheering him on.