The hub of information for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, our blog contains posts with announcements, news and events, articles, periodicals and additions or updates to our website.

This page contains published posts from the July 2013 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

Introducing the Next Generation of "The Guardian"

You can now receive important news, information and updates right in your email inbox — suitable for reading offline or printing.

We are pleased to announce that our official newsletter, The Guardian, is transitioning to a new electronic and monthly format.

The newest incarnation of The Guardian, which premieres with the August 2013 issue, features staff-selected blog posts in their entirety, with topics including program news, training opportunities and tips for volunteers and mentors.

Published close to the end of the month, issues also contain a special message from the circuit director, a snapshot of the upcoming month's events calendar and links to the past month's published blog posts.

Readers of The Guardian will find their favorite columns now published on our blog. Those regular features — Continuing Education, Director's Column and Kudos — join Ask a Mentor, In Print and Take 5 as special categories that you can read individually.

The shift to an electronic publication comes in part as a natural evolution of our website. Over the past twenty-one months, gal2.org has grown to become the hub of information for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program and our volunteers.

Circuit Director Deborah Moore acknowledges the support of CAII Partner Tommye Hutto CAII Partner for her support with the newsletter as volunteer editor.

"For more than three years, Tommye worked with our staff to create a newsletter we were always very proud to distribute," said Moore. "Having a way to share important program news and events helped our volunteers and community supporters stay connected and supportive of our program."

The need to share our news and events is as important now as ever. As a companion to our website, The Guardian aims to continue that tradition by actively delivering information while acknowledging that many people now read their news on computers, smartphones and tablets.

Visit the Newsletters page to subscribe today. On that page, you can also view past issues of The Guardian including an archive of print volumes.

If you have any questions, send us a message on the Contact page. Thank you!

Update
2013-07-31: added link to the now-published August 2013 issue.

In Print: Jan Watford Named Newest "Face of CASA"

On Tuesday, July 30, 2013, one of our volunteer guardians ad litem received another recognition of her outstanding service to children.

Janet "Jan" Watford was revealed today to be latest "Face of CASA" in the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association's nationwide recognition campaign.

National CASA's "35 Faces of CASA for Children" acknowledges outstanding individuals and programs honored for their dedication and service to children. Watford's story is the twenty-seventh to be featured by National CASA, telling "stories of the people who are making life better for abused and neglected children."

Back in April 2013, Watford was recognized by the Tallahassee Democrat as their Volunteer of the Year. As a result, she represented herself and our program in June 2013 at the Jefferson Awards for Public Service gala in Washington, D.C., where she again won for her work. Later that month, she was named Volunteer of the Year by the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

You can read Watford's story and the others on the National CASA website. Watford's story is also reproduced below.

Jan Watford: Jefferson Award-Winning CASA Volunteer
by National CASA Association
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
35 Faces of CASA for Children

Jan Watford has cradled newborns who are in the throes of meth withdrawal. She's told angry teens she doesn't blame them for trying to push her away — again and again. Every child she advocates for as a guardian ad litem might as well be flesh and blood.

"I would go to the ends of the earth to make sure they are receiving what they need and more," Jan says.

Jan has worked with more than 21 children during her seven years as a volunteer in Florida's guardian ad litem program, where she also serves as a peer mentor for new volunteers. This past spring, she won a prestigious Jefferson Award, the nation's highest honor for community service, after being named the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper's Volunteer of the Year.

Deborah Moore, director of Florida's Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, nominated Jan, describing her as a tireless and passionate advocate for kids, especially those who are "aging out" of the foster care system.

"Everyone who meets and talks with Jan is always impressed with how persistent and relentless she can be," Moore wrote. "Jan is intent on making sure the older youth she advocates for continue to benefit from support and guidance."

Take a young, autistic man named Cody. When he turned eighteen and had to move out of the group foster home where he'd been living for years, Jan helped him find his own apartment, showed him how to follow a budget, how to find the best deals at the grocery store, and how to organize his paperwork.

After three years of Jan's patient mentoring, he now cooks his own meals, cleans his apartment, and washes his own clothes. Every now and then, when he gets lost or flustered, he'll call Jan. He knows her number by heart.

"That's the one thing he's never forgotten," Jan says. "I ask all my kids to memorize my number, so they'll always have a way to reach me if they need to."

Quan, another of Jan's guardian ad litem kids, kept his distance from Jan for years. When she kept showing up and telling him she was there for him, he'd cast suspicious looks her way, as if to say, "Why isn't she going away? Everybody else goes away. I'm going to do things to make her go away."

"I told him I'm not going away," Jan says. "It took him six years to believe that."

Today, Quan is making steady progress toward getting his GED and plans to go enroll in the local community college after that.

Quan's older brother, James, whom Jan also represented as a guardian ad litem, sung her praises at a Black History Month celebration hosted by Florida's Department of Children and Families. The crowd gave Jan a standing ovation after he talked about what a difference she had made in their lives.

"The work I do is a labor of love," Jan says.

Copyright © 2013, National CASA Association.

Director's Column: August 2013

This month, our state office released the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Standards. The new standards are now posted on our website at https://gal2.org/forms.

Our thanks to Dorothy "Dot" Binger, our local program Volunteer Advisory Committee chair and second circuit volunteer representative on the Statewide Director of Volunteer Advisory Committee (DVAC). Dot and the DVAC members were part of the collaborative effort to create the standards by completing the final review and providing feedback to our Executive Director Alan Abramowitz.

Standard 1, "The Role of the Guardian ad Litem", reminds us that if a guardian ad litem encounters "barriers in gaining access to an assigned child, the circuit office should be notified immediately." Difficulty gaining access to a child is a safety "red flag" and we must respond with a sense of urgency. We will immediately notify and work with the Department of Children and Families, the community-based care agency and the dependency court to resolve the issue of denied access.

Standard 1 also emphasizes the impact our volunteers make when, in addition to supporting a child as an advocate, a guardian ad litem volunteer becomes a mentor for the child. Our Independent Living Advisory Committee is planning the next mentoring training session Monday, September 23 and Thursday, September 26. We hope you will join us!

Standard 7, "Transportation of Children" provides information about the provision allowing volunteers to transport children represented by the program. Currently, seventy volunteers in our circuit have been approved and are benefiting from enhanced communication with the children and promoting social and extracurricular activities. If you are interested in gaining approval to transport your assigned guardian ad litem child, please contact your child advocacy coordinator.

The standards is an excellent document to empower our staff and volunteers to achieve a high level of success for our program and the children we serve. Please contact me at deborah.moore@gal.fl.gov or at (850) 606-1218 if you have any questions about the standards. If you would a copy of the standards mailed to you, please contact Laurie Williams at (850) 606-1212. Thank you.

Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day 2013 Event Report

On Saturday, June 15, 2013, Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII) and the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program hosted our annual Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day event.

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.

See the complete Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day 2013 photograph set on Flickr.
Click on the pictures embedded in this article to see them larger.

This year's get together was held at the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church, which provided an outdoor space for children's activities as well as a large indoor hall to hold the luncheon, program and awards reception. The weather was quite warm with scattered clouds and temperatures climbing from 88 to 92 degrees through the event.

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- College volunteers painting children's faces at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Mel manning the raffle ticket table at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

The day started with children's activities including face painting provided by volunteers from the local Kappa Alpha Theta chapter. Welcoming arriving guests were CAII volunteers, portraits of children provided by Heart Gallery North Florida and a table with raffle tickets available for $1.00.

As guests arrived and mingled, they were able to choose from an assortment of snacks and beverages provided by Trak Engineering, Inc. including popcorn, cupcakes, water, tea and soda plus beer and wine for the adults.

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Cupcakes at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Flowers on one of the decorated tables ready for guests at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Before too long, it was time for the spaghetti luncheon prepared by volunteers with ingredients supplied by Barnaby's Family Inn. Volunteers manned the serving line, the contents of which consisted of pasta, meat sauce, vegetable sauce, salad, bread and dessert.

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Volunteer Omega Wynn assists other volunteers prepare the serving line at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Guests moving through the serving line at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

After the guests had a chance to help themselves to lunch, Circuit Director Deborah Moore and CAII Board President Brian Sealey took the stage to get the program started by welcoming the attendees and introducing a few special guests in the audience.

Concluding her welcoming remarks, Moore next provided an introduction for the day's first guest 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 region for our program.

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Executive Director Alan Abramowitz, CAII Board President Brian Sealey and Circuit Director Deborah Moore during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Executive Director Alan Abramowitz speaks during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Providing his thanks and perspective on the progress of the statewide program, Abramowitz discussed some of the program's recent good news and successes. After his speech, Abramowitz turned things over to the next keynote speaker, the Honorable Judge Karen Gievers. Following the July 2012 transfer of Judge Dawn Caloca-Johnson to the circuit criminal division, Judge Gievers has been presiding over the regular swearing in ceremonies for our guardians ad litem.

Following Judge Gievers' and Abramowitz's talks, Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program staff joined Sealey and Moore at the podium to begin the presentation of awards. The ceremony consisted of three groups of accolades: highlighting the work of volunteer team leaders, honorable mention awards and the eight annual honors.

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Judge Karen Gievers is introduced during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Volunteer team leader Lisa Peerson accepting an award and book from Circuit Director Deborah Moore during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Each staff member who works closely with a volunteer team leader took a few moments to extol the virtues of the volunteer and share some of the ways in which they provide valuable assistance to the program.

  • Kathleen "Kathy" Cole recognized by Jessica Herndon
    Kathy fearlessly tackles massive piles of paperwork that need to be filed; notifies GALs of upcoming hearings and meetings; and helps keep me organized — all with a smile on her face. I would be lost in a mountain of clutter without her!
     
  • Janis Edwards recognized by Brenna Radigan
    Janis Edwards was amazing and extremely helpful. On top of juggling her five children, she came weekly to help me file my never ending load of paperwork and to help keep track of visit reports. She always came in with a smile on her face and willing to do whatever was asked of her. She will truly be missed around the GAL office!
     
  • Mattie "MJ" Johnson recognized by Christina Chapman
    Words can only begin to describe how grateful I am to such a wonderful volunteer team leader! MJ is truly an inspiration to all who know her and I am blessed to have her on my team. "If you want to touch the past, touch a rock. If you want to touch the present, touch a flower. If you want to touch the future, touch a life." — author unknown
     
  • Lisa Peerson recognized by Caitlyn Kio
    Enthusiastic visitor, organizer extraordinaire and all around GAL MVP. I'd be lost without her.
     
  • Jane Vollertsen recognized by Shavonda Sprowl
    Jane has been working with me for a little over a month now. She is so sweet and I appreciate all the work she has done for me. I look forward to working with her in the future. I just want to say, "THANK YOU!"
     
  • Janet "Jan" Watford recognized by Kimberly Nester
    My volunteer team leader is our Volunteer of the Year. I can't say enough about Ms. Jan Watford. She came on late as the volunteer team leader [program] got started but she jumped right in. She helped me organize all eighty-plus out-of-circuit cases and created a tracking system for us. If she emails you about monthly visit reports, that's why! You're the best, Ms. Jan.
     
  • Stuart Zirin recognized by Tiffany Ottley-Hymes
    I have been truly blessed by our volunteer team leader Stuart Zirin. He is so helpful. He really helps to keep me in line and ensure that all volunteers are being made aware of any upcoming staffings or court hearings involving their cases. Tom Brokaw said, "it's easy to make a buck… it's a lot tougher to make a difference." Stuart makes that difference.
     

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Volunteer Maria accepting an award during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Volunteer Mary accepting an award during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Next, honorable mention awards were given out to volunteers for demonstrating exceptional performance in one of twelve special categories.

  • Bonnie and Clyde
    John and Barbara Donaldson
    Patrick "Pat" and Jane Dallet
    Michael and Patricia "Pat" O'Connell
     
  • Surrogate Parent
    Valerie "Val" Kibler
     
  • Stand By Me
    Patrick Farrell
     
  • Yoda: Wise Mentor You Are
    Dorothy "Dot" Binger
     
  • Police (PI)
    Diane Molitaris
    Taylor Greenberg
     
  • On the Road Again… Again… Again…
    Patricia Sanzone
     
  • Santa's Most Valuable Elf
    Stacey Burns
     
  • Rookie Award
    Sarah "Tippy" Amick
    Maria Augustyniak
     
  • Disaster Happens — The Clean Up Crew
    Theresa "Terry" Flynn
    Lolita Hawkins
     
  • One Time Charmers
    Denise Brimm
    Cheryln Dent
     
  • Courtesy Awards
    Joanna Hunter
    Michael Jenks
    Mary Kirmse
    Amanda Armetta
     

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- CAII Board President Brian Sealey congratulates volunteer team leader Stuart Zirin during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Volunteer team leader Jan Watford accepting an award and book from Kimberly Nester with Circuit Director Deborah Moore during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Finally, it was time for the presentation of the eight main awards.

  • GAL Youth Supporter
    Brian Williams
     
  • Child Advocates II Board Member of the Year
    Kristine Lamont
     
  • Twenty or More Years of Service
    Kelly Bennett
    Dorothy "Dot" Binger
    Martha "Marti" Chumbler
    Scott Kent
    Diane Molitaris
    Jennifer Stump-Ayotte
     
  • Community Supporters
    Starbucks
    Omega Wynn, District Manager

    Capital City Imports
    David Lloyd, Owner
     
  • Business Supporter
    Greenberg Traurig, P.A.
     
  • The George Thompson Training Award
    Frank Platt
     
  • Circuit Team Award
    Barbara and John Donaldson, GAL Volunteers
    Valentina Villalobos, GAL Child's Best Interest Attorney
    Tiffany Ottley-Hymes, Child Advocacy Coordinator
     
  • Volunteer of the Year
    Janet "Jan" Watford
     

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- CAII Board President Brian Sealey, youth supporter Brian Williams and Circuit Director Deborah Moore during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Volunteer Leigh Merritt, volunteer Frank Platt and Training Coordinator Christine Gornik during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- CAII Board President Brian Sealey, volunteer Diane Molitaris and Circuit Director Deborah Moore during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- CAII Board President Brian Sealey, volunteer Jan Watford and Circuit Director Deborah Moore during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Before bringing the awards presentation to a close, Moore and Sealey gave out one final surprise award: a special recognition for Alan Abramowitz. After a few final remarks and the raffle drawing, Sealey and Moore thanked everyone again and brought the event to a close.

We thank the members of the GAL Appreciation Committee — Katherine Blyth, Leigh Merritt, Deborah Moore, Kimberly Nester and Brian Sealey — who made this event a success. We also give special thanks to our event sponsors.

Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- CAII Board President Brian Sealey introducing volunteers Katherine Blyth and Leigh Merritt during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. Original Photo Credit: David July/gal2.org --- Young Skylar hands a prize to a raffle winner during the awards ceremony at Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day on June 15, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

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.

GAL Program Welcomes New Staff, Bids Others Farewell

On Thursday, July 18, 2013, we shared a piece from the Tallahassee Democrat announcing the addition of Carolyn DeVita to our staff as Child's Best Interest Attorney. We are additionally pleased to announce the hiring of Janay Davis and Shavonda Sprowl as Child Advocacy Coordinators.

Of course, welcoming new staff members frequently means saying goodbye to friends moving on to other challenges. We thank and give our best wishes to Jessica Herndon and Brenna Radigan, Child Advocacy Coordinators who will be leaving in August 2013.

Please join us in welcoming Carolyn, Janay and Shavonda to the team and bidding farewell to Jessica and Brenna!

Volunteer Reminder: Getting Approved for Transportation

Original Photo Credit: Neil Smith --- adjusting the mirror (a little boy adjusting the driver's mirror of a car through the open window)
Photo: Neil Smith

When SB 1960 was passed unanimously by the House, the Senate and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott during the 2012 legislative session, one of the included provisions created Florida Statute § 39.8296(2)(b)(7), permitting guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children represented by the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program.

The added ability of our volunteers to transport program-represented children was a great step forward for the advocacy for our children. The Transportation Guidelines document—effective as of June 1, 2012—clarifies who may transport children, the pre-qualification conditions that must be met by the volunteer and the process required to gain final authorization.

As a reminder to our volunteers, if you have not yet been approved to drive children on your cases and wish to do so, please contact your child advocacy coordinator. They will help you proceed through the approval process and answer any questions that you may have.

We thank all of our volunteers for their unmatched protagonism when it comes to the children in our community!

New Events: Computer Clinic for Guardians ad Litem

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following continuing education events have been recently added to our calendar.

Computer Clinic for Guardians ad Litem
Hands-on computer training for guardians ad litem providing tips and instruction on a variety of topics. Due to class size limitations for this course, we are offering four sessions each covering the same material.

  • Computer Clinic for Guardians ad Litem
  • Thursday, August 29, 2013, 6:00 PM–8:00 PM or
  • Thursday, October 24, 2013, 6:00 PM–8:00 PM or
  • Thursday, November 21, 2013, 6:00 PM–8:00 PM or
  • Thursday, December 19, 2013, 6:00 PM–8:00 PM

Trauma Informed Care Continuing Education

The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV) is hosting training of interest to volunteer guardians ad litem.

Focusing on trauma informed care, the two available classes are online and available for you to take them on your schedule. The training is free.

For additional details, curricula and to take the courses, visit the FCASV training pages below.

Attendees may be awarded two (2) and/or three (3) hours of continuing education credit. Remember, you can report your hours online quickly and easily.

Advanced Skills Course 2 Notes Available for Download

Back on Thursday, February 28, 2013, Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program Attorney Valentina Villalobos presented a continuing education training: Advanced Skills Course Session 2: Effective Information Gathering.

Whether you participated in this session or simply have an interest in the topic, you can now download Villalobos' session notes document for reference.

To learn about future continuing education, read our Blog and visit the Events page and Calendar.

Kudos: Sandi Wise

I want to give kudos to Sandi Wise, a volunteer guardian ad litem from Volusia County (Seventh Judicial Circuit) who has been providing courtesy support for one of our children. She has gone way above and beyond what the typical courtesy guardian ad litem does and even above and beyond what many primary guardians do.

Sandi sorted out the child's educational records and got her on track in school. She organized and attended meetings to ensure the child's education and services were in order. Even when there was a lack of response from other parties, she remained committed to ensuring the child was receiving all that she was entitled to and needed.

Sticking with the child to provide the best possible advocacy right up until the moment the child returned to Leon County, Sandi intends to remain in contact and be available to the child if needed. Sandi Wise is the ultimate courtesy guardian ad litem!

Original Photo Credit: WoodleyWonderworks --- thank you note for every language ('thank you' written in various languages)