Creating a family, celebrating love


Cassidy Jemo & Zhané Stones

Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Philadelphia

Zhané did not expect to fall so quickly for Cassidy, a woman she knew only through their dating app conversations, but the realization delighted her.

Cassidy had similarly big feelings for Zhané. They made her very nervous.

The ending of a previous long-term relationship left her cautious. She had gone on some dates since then, but they all felt so much less serious than this pending one with Zhané. Cassidy needed more time. “I’m so sorry. I’m not feeling well and I can’t make it,” she typed into Bumble in late October 2021, the day before she was to meet Zhané for ramen in Chinatown. “But here’s my number. You can text me if you want to.”

Zhané also had a previous long-term relationship in her recent history. But she knew what she wanted — someone smart, kind, and compassionate who wanted a serious relationship and, one day, a family. It already seemed that Cassidy might just be that person. Zhané texted that she was happy to bring anything Cassidy might need, then called a few days later to see how she felt. That first phone call lasted more than an hour, and Zhané’s deep and thought-provoking questions showed Cassidy that she truly wanted to know her, which made Cassidy more confident.

They made new plans to meet in person, but a few days before their second attempt at a first date, they couldn’t wait any longer. Zhané was just returning to Francisville from an out-of-state trip with friends. “If it’s not too late, I could swing by,” she told Cassidy. Cassidy texted her address — just six minutes away in North Philadelphia. Zhané pulled up, the front door opened, and out darted Cairo the cat with Cassidy in pursuit. Cairo stopped at Zhané’s feet. Cassidy scooped him up and smiled at Zhané. “Hi!” she said. “Hello!” How are you?” asked Zhané. “And how are you, little cat?”

Easy conversation taught them more about each other.

Cassidy, who is now 28, grew up in Hazleton and Boyertown. She earned an academic and athletic scholarship to a private high school, the Hill School, where she played lacrosse, and then earned a bachelor’s in peace and justice studies from Wellesley College and a master’s in education from Temple. Cassidy had spent 25 months in Panama teaching for the Peace Corps, a stint that ended when volunteers were evacuated at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She teaches Spanish at Strawberry Mansion High School.

Zhané’s childhood was split between Norfolk, Va., and Philadelphia. She ran track and field at the High School of the Future and, with the guidance of her coach, earned a full-tuition track and field scholarship to Wagner College, where she obtained a bachelor’s in psychology. Zhané, who is now 27, had spent two years in North Carolina, where she worked as a security supervisor, before returning to Philadelphia in 2019. She was working for UPS and Amazon but felt drawn to teach and had applied to become a substitute in Philadelphia.

When a bachata song came on, Cassidy asked Zhané to dance.

“There was this look in her eyes and I knew she wanted me to kiss her,” said Zhané. “I took the leap.”

Cassidy admitted to herself that she was in love. “I did not fall in love with the kiss,” she stressed. “The reason I really knew we were meant to be is the way we danced together — we flowed.”

Cassidy invited Zhané to visit again the next afternoon. Zhané worked nights then and after a time said she should go home to rest. “You have your uniform with you. If you want to, you can just stay here,” said Cassidy. Zhané has lived there ever since. “It’s not like the joke where a lesbian brings a U-Haul to her second date,” said Zhané with a laugh. “I didn’t even make it that long.”

Shortly after, Zhané got a call from the school district. She is now a long-term substitute.

Throughout November and December, Cassidy and Zhané playfully asked each other if they wanted to get married. Zhané made a joke with a point: She wanted to see a ring first.

On Jan. 1, 2022, as they relaxed, recovering from a New Year’s Eve of rollerskating with friends and Zhané’s little brother, Cassidy pulled out a ring.

“I wanted her to know that I was serious about marrying her,” Cassidy said.

As thrilled as she was, Zhané asked that they keep their engagement a secret for a little while.

On Valentine’s Day, Zhané called out, “Come here. I can’t find it.” Cassidy came into the living room to find her staring at the floor. “What did you lose?” she asked. “I can’t find it!” Zhané repeated. Cassidy went to help Zhané look for whatever was lost. Zhané got down on one knee and gave her a ring. After that, they went public.

Cassidy did most of the planning for their Wedding Wednesday at LOVE Park nuptials while Zhané focused on the goal after that: readying their home for the child or children they hoped to foster. The couple began foster parent training in April.

Cassidy spent the night before the wedding at a hotel with her bridesmaids. Zhané was almost finished getting ready at their home when Cassidy’s father and grandparents arrived with doughnuts and good wishes. “They were happy that we were happy, and that solidified a great day,” Zhané said.

Zhané’s parents, Hazel and Johnny, walked her down the aisle to Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan’s “Buy Dirt.” Then she turned to face their officiant, Journeys of the Heart’s Stephen Workman. Cassidy’s parents, Kim and Mike, escorted her down the aisle to GoldFord’s “Walk With Me.” Mike tapped Zhané on the shoulder and she turned to finally see Cassidy. “My mind was just blown — she looked so beautiful!” she said.

Cassidy and Zhané wrote vows to each other but when it came time to say them, each simply spoke from the heart. “I stressed to her that my love for her was very certain, that I knew from very early on that she was special,” said Cassidy.

“I told her that I would protect her, love her through good and bad, and that my love for her had not changed since the first time I told her I loved her, and it never would,” said Zhané.

More than 200 people attended — the largest number of guests ever at a LOVE Park wedding. For logistical reasons, there is now a 75-guest limit on Wedding Wednesdays.

The reception was held at Nix & Nix Event Venue. Their friend Justin created specialty punches named after dogs Italy and Brisa, who was in the wedding. The newlyweds’ first dance was to “Promise” — a bilingual song by Romeo Santos and Usher that starts slow but goes into a full-on bachata, just like their first-ever dance on the night they met. “It was a beautiful, full-circle moment,” said Cassidy.

The two spent 12 days in the Dominican Republic, enjoying the resort life and a horseback ride in the mountains.

At the end of August, the couple’s foster daughter, 9-year-old KK, came to live with them.

KK, whose full name is not being shared for privacy reasons, has enjoyed caring for the family pets and learning to swim at the community center where Zhané’s grandmother and brother work. KK also loves to cook with Cassidy, whom she calls Mommy, and Zhané, whom she calls Mom. “She is interested in making her own kids’ YouTube channel for cooking,” said Zhané. “We can’t show her face, but we will find a way!”

Zhané plans to earn a master’s degree in special education. She also wants to obtain her real estate license and become an agent that serves low-income households. Cassidy plans to earn a Ph.D. in education with a focus on bilingual health and life skills curriculum and to write related children’s books.

But these goals will wait behind others, the couple says. They are focused on KK’s needs and happiness, and in the future, they hope to adopt and foster more children and have biological children as well. “KK is totally onboard,” said Cassidy. “She’s already planning to be a sister,” said Zhané.

Love isn’t just about marriage, and love stories don’t stop at the wedding: We’re looking for stories about all kinds of love, from parents and children, best friends, siblings, newlyweds and to-be-weds, and couples with experience. To be featured in an upcoming Love column, please send an email to [email protected] with your names, a few sentences about your story, and the best way to reach you. Please include your email address.

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