Teenager Bobby Noreen told his story to hundreds of other adopted kids and some potential adoptive parents Sunday at a celebration for now-adopted foster children in Oakdale.

The annual event, organized by the state Department of Human Services, also was held to provide information to prospective adoptive families about the state's 355 foster children -- a third of them teens -- seeking permanent homes. The event also celebrated the adoption in 2011 of 540 foster children by Minnesota families, said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

Noreen had been in Twin Cities foster homes for about five years before being adopted at age 14 in February 2008. Now 18, he has graduated from Pine City High School, landed his first job and is a freshman at Pine Technical College.

He said that when his parents, a Pine City couple, first offered to adopt him, he worried that it might not work out, as had happened before. But he moved into their hobby farm near Hinckley, where, he said, he found that caring for their goats and sheep helped relieve him when he was anxious or worried.

Noreen said he's learned some valuable lessons from his adoptive parents. One came when he made a big mistake at his first job at a kennel for bird-hunting dogs that are trained with chukar partridge.

"I didn't close the bird cage," he said. "About 500 chukars got out." At first, he was tempted not to tell anyone. But after talking to his parents, he decided to 'fess up. His parents helped him pay for the lost birds, but he also worked most of the summer as restitution.

"It's nice to know you have someone to always fall back on when you have troubles," Noreen said. "They told me to be honest, [that] you are only as good as your word."

Jesson opened the Prom Center event, which kicked off Adoption Awareness Month, by noting that the backlog of foster children awaiting adoption has dropped dramatically since the celebrations began 15 years ago. In that time, the number of children waiting to be adopted (whose parents have lost legal custody) has dropped from about 800 to 355, said Human Services spokeswoman Beth Voigt.

On Sunday, many of the adopted kids visited goats, rabbits, chickens, a pig and a sheep at a petting zoo. They also ate snacks, rode ponies, climbed aboard a fire truck or played Guitar Hero in the teen room.

Arianna Wright, 6, displayed little flowers freshly painted on her fingernails. She and her sister Savannah, 5, also enjoyed the petting zoo. "I like the chickens," Arianna said.

Ed and Jennifer Wright of West St. Paul said they found the girls through the African American Adoption Agency in St. Paul, one of 10 private adoption agencies that work under state contract with county and tribal agencies. About three years ago, the couple, in their 40s, decided they had the time to be parents, said Ed Wright, a railroad engineer. So they adopted the two sisters from a foster home.

"It's a lot of work," he said of parenthood. "But when they come and jump in your arms before bedtime and say, 'I love you,' it's all worth it."

Jim Adams • 952-746-3283