GAL Appreciation Day provides an opportunity for the local guardian ad litem community to get together with their families to socialize, have fun and recognize the exemplary work of our volunteers, community supporters and staff.
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This year's get together was held at the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church, which provided an excellent outdoor space and playground for children's activities as well as a large indoor hall to hold the luncheon, program and awards reception. Fortunately, the weather was ideal with scattered clouds and temperatures climbing from 81 to 87 degrees through the event.
The day started with children's activities and the opportunity to meet and greet while all participants arrived and signed in. To help arriving families get settled in, volunteers from the Godby High School U.S. Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) were on hand to direct traffic and park attendees' automobiles.
Greeting and welcoming new arrivals were CAII volunteers, portraits of children provided by Heart Gallery North Florida and a memorial to the late volunteer guardian ad litem George Thompson.
In addition to the aforementioned playground, children had many fun outdoor activities to choose from including the bounce house provided by 3D's Bouncers and Golden Books Preschool, face painting provided by volunteers from the local Kappa Alpha Theta chapter, drawing and coloring, blowing soap bubbles, hula hooping, playing ball and more.
While the children played, their parents, guardians and other attendees enjoyed the chance to meet and interact with each other in an informal atmosphere. For those taking in the day outside, Mike Snelling, Kit Goodner, Kim Thomas, Carrie Perkins and friends provided aural entertainment in the form of bluegrass music.
A warm day calls for cold beverages and this was no exception. A drinks table inside provided by Trak Engineering, Inc. offered water, tea and soda plus beer and wine for the adults. Outside, Tallahassee's own Big Easy Snowballs had icy refreshments available from their yellow trailer.
Before too long, it was time for the luncheon provided by Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q to begin. CAII volunteers manned the self-service buffet, the contents of which consisted of pulled pork, barbeque chicken, baked beans, cole slaw and bread. Our tablecloths were provided by Alsco.
After the approximately 150 attendees had a chance to help themselves to lunch, Circuit Director Deborah Moore took the stage to get the program started with a welcome and introduction.
Flanked by her mentee and youth supporter Brian Williams and Child Advocates II Board of Directors President Brian Sealey, Moore thanked everyone for coming and had kind words for several individuals for their various contributions and accomplishments. With Mother's Day on the morrow, Moore also took a moment to recognize and thank all of the mothers present.
Concluding her welcoming remarks, Moore next provided an introduction for the day's first special guest keynote speaker. Currently the gubernatorially-appointed executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office, Alan Abramowitz is also a guardian ad litem volunteer himself, taking cases in the Big Bend for our program.
Providing his thanks and perspective on the progress of the statewide program, Abramowitz discussed some of the program's recent good news and successes. He mentioned the program's nomination and receipt of the prestigious 2012 Davis Productivity Eagle Award; the Florida legislature and governor's support of guardians ad litem via their passage of the requested budget package and additional nonrecurring funds; and the continued success and long-term goals of both the I Am for the Child campaign and the Strategic Campaign for 10,000 Voices.
After his speech, Abramowitz turned things over to the next keynote speaker. The Honorable Judge Irene Sullivan, author of Raised by the Courts: One Judge's Insight into Juvenile Justice, was originally scheduled to appear and autograph copies of her book. However, as she was unable to attend due to a medical emergency, Jack Levine of 4Generations Institute was present to represent and speak in Judge Sullivan's place.
Levine has a distinguished career in child advocacy, parenting support and elder affairs, focusing on providing information and messages to gain support from advocates, public officials and the media. During his speech, Levine also spoke of Judge Sullivan, her accomplishments and her regret at having to cancel her appearance. As a surprise, Levine said that he was going to call Judge Sullivan and asked everyone to send their "get well soon" wishes.
After Judge Sullivan answered, Levine held his telephone up to the crowd and via the roar of well-wishers received her message loudly and clearly. Based on the subsequent reaction on Levine's face as he again spoke with Judge Sullivan, the surprise obviously worked as planned.
Thanking the keynote speakers for their time and words, Deborah Moore returned to the stage with Brian Sealey to begin the next portion of the program, the presentation of awards. First, an unannounced thank you gift pen was presented to Alan Abramowitz in recognition of his continued contributions and service. Moore also presented Jack Levine with an engraved glass bowl for Judge Sullivan.
The first award to be presented was the Guardian ad Litem Youth Supporter Award. Describing the accolade and its recipient, Moore happily announced that this year's honoree was her own mentee Brian Williams, who was also volunteering as stagehand for the day. We are all very proud of Williams' accomplishments and appreciate his desire to give back to the community.
Brian Sealey stepped forward next to present the Child Advocates II Board Member of the Year Award. As he described the accomplishments of the honoree, this author was surprised and truly honored to realize that Sealey was describing him. David July was named Board Member of the Year for his development and authorship of the gal2.org website, public outreach using social media, event photography and other volunteer contributions.
The next award to be presented was to those volunteers with Twenty or More Years Of Service. Moore spoke fondly of each individual and thanked them for their decades of service to children. Accepting their recognition in person were Dorothy "Dot" Binger, author of our Ask a Mentor column, Diane Molitaris and Jennifer Stump-Ayotte. Kelly Bennett, Mary Hopping and Scott Kent were also recognized with this award but were regrettably unable to attend.
Acknowledging the important role played by businesses and organizations, Sealey next introduced the Community Supporter Award and announced its honoree, Starbucks. Present to accept the award on behalf of Starbucks was district manager and CAII board member Omega Wynn. As well as providing coffee and refreshments for many of our events—and a tent to shade our bluegrass musicians from the sun this day—Starbucks regularly donates the use of their stores for our neighborhood Volunteer Recruitment Coffees.
With co-worker Angela Still at her side, Assistant Circuit Director Leigh Merritt came on stage next for the presentation of the George Thompson Training Award. Merritt took great pride in describing the personality and accomplishments of the honoree, Katherine Blyth, before announcing her name. A volunteer and supporter of our program and CAII for ten years, Blyth is always friendly, outgoing and willing to help. Her company, Trak Engineering, also supports events such as this one and our annual Holiday Wish List Drive on a regular basis.
Merritt continued solo for the sixth award presentation, the Circuit Team Award. Elaborating on the crucial relationship between program staff and volunteers, Merritt detailed the honorees' achievements and explained that only by working together can we accomplish our goals. Awarded for those team achievements were Bonnie Marmor, a guardian ad litem volunteer who was unable to attend, Program Attorney Chelsea Rice and Volunteer Supervisor Angela Still.
While Still accepted the award and Binger represented the absent Marmor, Rice took a few moments to thank and address the crowd as well as expound upon Merritt's remarks. Following much applause and hugs all around, it was time for the seventh and final award presentation.
Merritt began, this time joined by Volunteer Supervisor Dominic Whitfield, by explaining the award and extolling the virtues and merits of this year's Volunteer of the Year. During his five years of service, Stuart Zirin has made significant contributions and a positive impact on everyone with whom he has interacted. The applause was strong as Zirin made his way to the stage where he was greeted with handshakes and hugs.
Before bringing the awards presentation to a close, Brian Sealey made some closing remarks once again congratulating the award recipients, thanking those volunteers and businesses who provided supplies or manpower to make Appreciation Day a success and thanking everyone for coming. Before wrapping up, Sealey took a few minutes for one last special thanks and recognition—that of Circuit Director Deborah Moore, whose continued dedication to her job and the children of our community is plainly evident to all that know her.
Moore took a second to thank everyone herself and with that, a final round of applause brought things to an end. As people made their way out and others continued to meet and greet, volunteers started the clean up process and another successful event was in the books.
We would like to echo the sentiments of the day in thanking and honoring the extraordinary people who make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children. We hope that you enjoyed yourself and are looking forward to next year's event.